More than a third of all Universal Credit claims made since start of pandemic

Jemma Crew, PA Social Affairs Correspondent

More than a third of claims made since Universal Credit was introduced have been made during the coronavirus pandemic, figures show.

There were 4.5 million claims for the benefit between March 13 2020 and January 14 this year, according to figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

This represents 39% of the 11.4 million claims made since Universal Credit was introduced in April 2013.

The latest quarterly figures take the total number of people on Universal Credit in Britain to 6 million as of January 14 – a 98% rise from March 12 2020.

The latest available figures show there were 4.9 million households on Universal Credit in November 2020 – up 2.2 million since March.

Of these, 85% (4.2 million) received a payment.

More than a third (37.5%) of the 4.9 million households are families with children.

As of November 2020, 1.8 million families with children were claiming Universal Credit.

This is a rise of 620,000 families, or 51%, from March 2020.

Save the Children is urging the Government to extend the £20-per-week increase to Universal Credit, which is due to end in March, warning that many families will be forced to rely on food banks or into debt without it.

Becca Lyon, head of child poverty at the charity, said the Government must extend the increase for at least a year.

She said: “Providing support for only another six months just won’t cut it. The increase to Universal Credit in March last year was a clear recognition by the UK Government that people who had lost work during the pandemic needed extra financial support.

“Yet, as furlough ends, hundreds of thousands of people will sadly lose their jobs over the next few months and will need a helping hand.

“It is this very group of people that the UK Government deemed necessary to help less than a year ago, and yet it now plans to take this lifeline away from them at the very time they will need it the most.”

Claims have largely made a return to pre-pandemic levels following a spike at the beginning of the pandemic, with two weeks in spring seeing 10 times as many claims as usual.

The DWP said claims also rose in the weeks coinciding with the start of lockdowns in November and January.

The figures show there were 75,000 claims in the first week of 2021, coinciding with the start of the January lockdown.

Jamie Grier, director of external affairs at the charity Turn2us, said: “The continued high number of new claims for Universal Credit further demonstrates that the economic consequences of this pandemic are still in full swing. This is exactly why it would be such a terrible idea to reduce benefit payments by £20 a week now.

“The Government did the right thing by introducing the uplift in the first place, and they must now do the right thing by making it permanent and extending it across our social security system. Otherwise, be in no doubt, poverty will rise, and the economic recovery will be slower.”

The figures also show there has been a rise in the proportion of households without children which are receiving payments.

Some 59% of households receiving Universal Credit payments were households without children in November 2020, up from 54% in March.

People aged 20 to 24 and the over-40s on Universal Credit have increased in proportion since the start of the crisis.

Minister for welfare delivery Will Quince said: “Universal Credit continues to support millions of people during their time of need.

“It is a vital safety net that has stood up to the challenge of the pandemic, and with thousands of new work coaches we are helping claimants across the country get back on their feet with one-to-one tailored support.

“Universal Credit is one of the pillars of our support for families with lower incomes.

“Alongside it, our Covid Winter Grant Scheme is keeping vulnerable children warm and well-fed, and our Plan for Jobs is helping people back on their feet and into work, with nearly two million people being supported through innovative programmes such as Kickstart and the Job Entry Targeted Support scheme.”

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