Rise in Universal Credit claimants in Dacorum
Department for Work and Pensions figures show a rise in claimants across the borough
Hundreds more people in Dacorum are claiming Universal Credit, figures show, as the effects of the coronavirus shutdown begin to be seen on the area's economy.
Department for Work and Pensions figures show 4,362 people in Dacorum were on Universal Credit as of March 12 – a 4% increase on the month before.
With millions of people out of work across the UK, benefits experts Turn2us said the nation's welfare state is "creaking round the seams" as it urged the Government to remove the five-week wait for claimants’ first monthly Universal Credit payment.
Local figures on claimants are only available prior the point Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed strict social distancing rules by placing the country into lockdown.
But national figures show the DWP have processed 1.8 million new claims from individuals in the month since, meaning the figure in Dacorum is likely to be much higher by now.
Anna Stevenson, welfare benefit expert at Turn2us, said: "Millions of people, many completely new to the benefits system, are making claims for Universal Credit due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"While our welfare state is providing some protection, it is creaking round the seams. We urge the Government to eliminate the five-week wait for Universal Credit so people can put food on the table today and avoid the debt trap."
However, Welfare Minister Will Quince told MPs last week that ending the wait "isn't something we considered" because it was not operationally deliverable, even if they could secure the £2.2 billion a year needed.
The Government's decision to raise the allowance by £20 a week at the beginning of April was a "step in the right direction" for charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, but it said it will still not be enough for the hardest-hit families.
Iain Porter, the organisation's social security policy and partnerships manager, said: "In particular, families with children have been offered no extra support, despite facing significant additional costs due to school closures and children being at home.
"That’s why we’re calling for an urgent temporary increase of at least £20 to the child element of Universal Credit and child tax credits to offer a lifeline to families most at risk of hardship.”
National figures show the biggest increase in claims between February and March was among those aged 60 or over.
In Dacorum, the number of people aged 60 to 65 on UC increased by 9%, while the number of 66-plus claimants stayed level at 10.
Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s charity director, said: "Since the coronavirus outbreak many older workers have lost their jobs and have turned to Universal Credit. Given older jobseekers typically take longer to get back in to work than do younger workers, we need to see an immediate investment in back-to-work support targeted at the over 60s."
A DWP spokesman said: “These are challenging times, but Universal Credit is providing a vital safety net to those affected by the pandemic and we’ve taken action by injecting over £6.5 billion to support people on the welfare system, along with the other job and business support programmes announced by the Chancellor.”