That’s according to Office for National Statistics figures showing the number of people receiving pay through PAYE – HM Revenue and Customs’ system for collecting income tax from salaries.
An estimated 1.08 million employees in the East Anglia area – which covers 18 local authority districts including Peterborough – were on company payrolls in February.
That was around 19,800 fewer than in February last year – the month before the UK was plunged into its first Covid-19 lockdown.
This was despite the area seeing a slight uplift in employee numbers over the winter in the face of recent restrictions – the number rose by around 7,900 from November.
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The figures are an average of employee counts in each day of a given month.
The 1.8 per cent annual decrease was still smaller than the average fall of 2.4 per cent across the UK.
This amounted to a drop of 693,000 nationally compared to the previous February, despite the number of employees on the payroll increasing slightly for the third month in a row after nine months of decline.
While the employee workforce took a hit everywhere, the majority of areas to see the sharpest falls were in London and the South East.
“Inevitably, places with lots of jobs in hospitality, tourism, aviation and the arts have been hit particularly hard, while areas that are more reliant on public sector jobs and health services have been relatively better insulated during the crisis,” said Tony Wilson, director of the Institute for Employment Studies.
“However, many of those areas that have fared less badly had lower employment before the crisis and have even lower employment now. No part of the country has escaped unscathed.”
The labour market should see a recovery in hiring as parts of economy shut down by the pandemic start to reopen, Mr Wilson said.
He added: “But with nearly 5 million people still to come back from furlough and nearly 2 million people unemployed, we may well need more support in the coming months to get hiring going again.”
The Resolution Foundation, which campaigns to improve living standards for those on low to middle incomes, said that one of the big questions as the country emerges from another lockdown is how quickly people can return to work.
Hannah Slaughter, economist at the think tank, said: “Government policy will have a big hand to play in how successful this transition is.”
A Treasury spokesman said: ‘’We’ve invested more than £350 billion throughout the pandemic to protect millions of jobs and businesses – and extended the furlough scheme through to April so that people have certainty that help is in place.
“We will continue to implement our Plan for Jobs through support schemes such as Kickstart, Restart, and our apprenticeships incentives – helping jobseekers find new opportunities, protecting livelihoods, and supporting our economic recovery.”