The Institute for Public Policy Research and Resolution Foundation think tanks are calling for the Government to extend or modify the Job Retention Scheme beyond October, to avoid triggering a spike in unemployment.
Figures from HM Revenue and Customs show around 18,800 claims to furlough jobs were made in Preston by the end of July – 28 per cent of all eligible jobs.
That was 900 more than at the end of June, though this was fewer than the 2,500 jobs added to the scheme the previous month.
During this time, the Government paid 80 per cent of employees' wages through Chancellor Rishi Sunak's scheme, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month per employee.
Jobs at firms which are unable to operate or have no work for their employees because of coronavirus are eligible for furlough.
Between the launch of the Job Retention Scheme in March and the end of last month, 9.6m jobs across the UK had been placed on furlough, amounting to £30.9bn in claims.
Across the North West, the scheme has a take-up rate of 32 per cent, which is the same as across the whole of the UK.
From September, the Government's contribution will drop to 70 per cent of wages, with employers having to make up the extra 10%, before the scheme is expected to end in October.
But the Institute for Public Policy Research said that would be a "historic mistake", and an extension is urgently needed.
Carsten Jung, IPPR senior economist, said: “The jobs recovery is real, but it looks slow and fragile.
"Even though the lockdown has been partially lifted, the economy is still only carefully picking up speed.
“Reforming and extending the scheme now could prevent jobs losses and boost the economy in this time of need."
He added that transforming the furlough scheme to focus on job sharing could save 2m jobs from being lost.
The Resolution Foundation said the scheme has played a critical role in protecting firms and workers from the worst of the economic crisis.
Nye Cominetti, senior economist at the think tank, said going forward the Chancellor's "immediate priority" should be on the hardest-hit sectors, or he risks an unemployment spike this autumn.
As is the case across the UK, the industry most reliant on the scheme in the North West is hospitality, with 79 per cent of eligible workers furloughed by the end of July.
Also set to end in October is the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, which allowed the self-employed to claim a grant worth 80 per cent of their average monthly profits between March and May, up to £7,500.
Separate figures from HMRC show around 4,200 people in Preston had applied to the scheme by the end of July – 76 per cent of eligible workers.
They can now apply for a second and final grant, worth 70 per cent of profits and capped at £6,570, before the scheme closes on October 19.
But the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed said over a million freelancers across the UK are still not able to get support.
Derek Cribb, IPSE's chief executive, said: "With the threat of a second wave and further lockdowns looming, Government must urgently consider ways to support these desperate forgotten freelancers.”
A Treasury spokeswoman said “We’ve been clear that that we can’t sustain this situation indefinitely but the end of the furlough scheme is not the end of our support for jobs.
"For businesses that can successfully bring furloughed employees back to work, this includes a £1,000 job retention bonus."