Before I start, may I join with all the words that have been said in praise of Jo Cox during the proceedings so far? I know that many more such words will be said today. One thing that colleagues may not know, amid all the many things that they have been told about her, is that she was very fond of visiting Symonds Yat in my constituency in Herefordshire. I look forward to the day when many other people can do that, following lockdown.
From the onset of this pandemic, the Government’s top priority has been to protect the NHS and to save lives, but we have also made it clear that we will do whatever is needed to support people, jobs and businesses through the present period of disruption, and that is what we have done. On Friday, the Office for National Statistics published its first estimate of April GDP and showed the economy contracting sharply by a record 20.4% on the month. It is clear that restrictions introduced during the lockdown, while necessary, have had a severe impact on output.
However, it is important to note that the OECD, the Office for Budget Responsibility and other external forecasters have all highlighted that the cost to the economy would have been significantly higher were it not for the swift and decisive action that the Government have taken. Measures such as the coronavirus job retention scheme—the CJRS—which has protected almost 9 million jobs and more than 1 million businesses, have helped to limit the adverse impact of the crisis. It is also important to note that the OECD forecast the UK to have the strongest recovery of all the large countries that it looked at, with an unemployment rate projected to be lower than that in France and Italy by the end of 2021.
As we are reopening the economy, the Government are supporting putting people back into work. Last month, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced that the CJRS would be extended for four months, until the end of October. From July to October, employers currently using the scheme will be able to bring furloughed employees back part-time. That will ensure that the CJRS will continue to support all firms so that no employer faces a cliff edge.
This remains a very uncertain and worrying time for businesses and employees alike. The Government have set out separately the five principles that must be satisfied before we make further changes to the lockdown rules, which we based on advice received from Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies. However, I can assure the House that the thoughts, energies and resources of the Government are focused increasingly on planning for the recovery. We will develop new measures to grow our economy, to back businesses and to boost skills. I am confident that the United Kingdom can continue to thrive in a post-covid world.