Figures reveal huge rise in Universal Credit claims in Bristol

May 22 2020
Figures reveal huge rise in Universal Credit claims in Bristol

CLAIMS for Universal Credit in Bristol have rocketed since the lockdown began, official figures reveal.

There were 26,480 new claims made between March 13 and April 9, compared with just 2,598 in the previous four weeks, according to data from the Department for Work and Pensions released this week.

The staggering figures come as a separate set of statistics, also released this week, showed the number of people claiming unemployment benefit in the city had increased by 77 per cent in the first full month of the coronavirus lockdown.

The DWP says the enormous hike in people seeking Universal Credit is a direct result of the pandemic, which has cost countless jobs and seen incomes slashed as the economy judders to a halt.

In the week up to Thursday, March 12, just 671 people from BS postcodes applied for Universal Credit, which helps working-age people with living costs.

Four days later, Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked people to avoid non-essential contact with others, including working from home if they could.

That first tentative step towards lockdown resulted in claims quadrupling to 2,580 by the following Thursday, the day before all pubs, cafes and restaurants were closed on March 20.

The full lockdown kicked in after a televised address by the PM on Monday, March 23, and by Thursday the weekly Universal Credit claims figure in Bristol had increased to 9,728.

It remained at 9,534 a week later before dropping significantly to 4,638 on April 9, the last date covered by the most recent figures, mirroring the national picture.

Many of those may be in work on low wages and a proportion will have lost their jobs over the last few weeks and need help to pay the rent or mortgage. The Local Housing Allowance rates have been increased for help with rent costs.

They will also include people who have been furloughed and had their wages reduced, who may also be eligible for Universal Credit, in addition to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

There will be self-employed people for whom, like others, the benefit’s Minimum Income Floor has been temporarily relaxed during the crisis.

A DWP spokesman confirmed the increase in claims was due to the “impact of the pandemic”.

He said any rise did not directly reflect unemployment because many people would still be receiving some form of income, which Universal Credit then topped up.

Will Quince, Minister for Welfare Delivery, said: “Jobcentre staff have done a fantastic job of processing record numbers of Universal Credit claims, and getting support to people who need it quickly. 

We’ve injected £6.5billion into the welfare system to help people during the pandemic, increased the Universal Credit standard allowance by more than £1,000 a year, raised the amount you can get to help with your rent, paused face-to-face jobcentre appointments, and implemented a callback system so people aren’t waiting on the phone lines unnecessarily. 

This is alongside income protection schemes, mortgage holidays and greater protections for renters.”

Universal Credit brought together six former benefits including jobseeker’s allowance, income support, housing benefit and tax credits, so the rise includes a whole raft of people in need as a result of the pandemic.

The DWP has a new website advertising “critical worker” vacancies at https://jobhelp.dwp.gov.uk/

By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporting Service