More than half of all adults now paid by the state

Analysis shows 27 million people being funded by Government amid growing concern over impact of virus on economy

More than half of Britain's adult population is now being bankrolled by the state amid warnings from the Chancellor that the furlough scheme could soon cost as much as the NHS.

Analysis of official figures shows that 27 million people are being funded by the Government amid growing concern over the devastating impact inflicted on the economy by the coronavirus pandemic.

The figure includes people being paid through the furlough scheme and those claiming benefits after being made unemployed because of the virus. The remainder are public sector workers and pensioners.

On Monday night, Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, said the cost was "clearly not a sustainable situation" and warned that Britain must get back to work.

Amid growing signs of Cabinet friction over the ongoing lockdown and mounting cost, Mr Sunak said: "To anyone who is anxious about this, I want to give them reassurance today that there will be no cliff-edge to the furlough scheme.

"I'm working, as we speak, to figure out the most effective way to wind down the scheme and to ease people back into work in a measured way.

"As some scenarios have suggested, we are potentially spending as much on the furlough scheme as we do on the NHS, for example. Clearly, that is not a sustainable situation."

Official figures released on Monday showed 6.3 million people in the UK – almost a quarter of all PAYE employees – have now been put on furlough by their employers at a cost of £8 billion in the first month. The NHS budget is approximately £11 billion a month.

Therese Coffey, the Work and Pensions Secretary, disclosed to Parliament that a further 1.8 million people had made new claims for Universal Credit since the Covid-19 outbreak gripped the UK, with another 250,000 claims for Jobseeker's Allowance costing an extra £6.5 billion.

Adding in figures for the numbers unemployed before the crisis (1.2 million), public sector workers (5.4 million) and 12.6  million receiving a state pension, there are now more than 27 million people benefiting from state funding out of an adult population of just over 52  million – equivalent to about 53 per cent.

Senior Conservatives said the strain of the lockdown on the nation's finances, and rising unemployment, were becoming "unsustainable" and called on Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, to lift the restrictions.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick, a Tory former chancellor, told The Telegraph: "It is not practical and not affordable for the state to pay people not to work – ultimately the Government only has the money it gets from taxation from people who create the wealth.

"It is not a sustainable position, except in the short term. It illustrates the danger and precariousness of our situation."

Leading businesses are working with the Government on a strategy to help ease workers back into work while adhering to social distancing. Mr Johnson is expected to set out further plans in an address to the nation on Sunday.

Many European nations including Spain, Italy and Germany have begun easing their lockdowns amid growing concerns over the economic impact.

In total, just over a third of the UK's adult population, including pensioners, received substantial state funding prior to the pandemic. If pensioners are removed from the calculations, almost 36 per cent of the working population is now receiving major state support, more than double the proportion – 16 per cent – before the virus struck.

The calculations do not include a further five  million self-employed workers who may now be eligible to apply for a separate coronavirus bailout. The latest figures will put Mr Johnson under increased pressure to take the country out of lockdown while at the same time trying to avoid a devastating second virus peak.

On Monday night, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, a former Conservative leader and Work and Pensions Secretary, said: "This proves that we have to now be looking to unlock the lockdown urgently because this is unsustainable for much longer."

Sir John Redwood, a Cabinet minister in John Major's administration, said: "In a short-term crisis, the state needs to pay people who cannot work. Furlough has to be a temporary measure. It can't conceivably become the new normal – we can't afford it."

Mark Littlewood, the director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs thinktank, added: "We need to swiftly move away from such colossal state involvement in employment. If numbers like these persist, it will be a recipe for serious long term stagnation and decline."

On Monday, The Telegraph obtained draft documents setting out Government guidelines on how to get Britain back to work, including plans for safely opening up offices, shopping centres, hotels, factories and construction sites.

Britain recorded 288 new coronavirus deaths on Monday, the lowest number since March 30. The UK death toll now stands at 28,734, compared to Italy’s 29,079.