The true scale of the jobs disaster facing Britain is revealed today as experts issue dire warnings that up to half a million workers will lose their jobs over the next two years, as companies cut costs and scale back investment plans to survive the economic downturn.
Official figures are widely expected to reveal this week that the number of people out of work and claiming benefits increased for a seventh successive month in August.
Finance companies based in London's Square Mile have already laid off thousands of workers since the US mortgage crisis unleashed chaos in the world's markets last summer; and the 5,000 UK-based staff at crisis-hit investment bank Lehman Brothers are awaiting news this weekend about how many of them will be made redundant.
The constant drip of job losses is spreading beyond the City. Karen Ward, chief UK economist at HSBC, calculates that almost a quarter of the workforce - seven million - are employed in the vulnerable retail and leisure industries. Thousands of shopworkers have already lost their jobs this year, as a succession of retail companies have gone into administration. Car manufacturers are also scaling back their production after the latest registration figures showed that last month was the worst August for new car sales since 1966.
Trade unions at Ford's Transit van plant in Southampton will hold talks with executives tomorrow in the hope of averting layoffs. Roger Madison, national automotive officer for the Unite union, said: 'There is just no confidence at the moment. All the companies are struggling - everyone is in the same boat.' There are fears that the Southampton plant, employing 1,100 workers, will be closed if Ford decides to build a new model of the van at its low-cost sites in Turkey or Romania. A decision on where to build the new model is due soon.