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The number of people claiming Universal Credit has risen by 98 per cent since the start of the pandemic, new figures have shown.
Newly released stats from the Department of Work and Pensions shows the number of those claiming the benefit had reached 6 million by January 2021, compared to 3 million claimants in March 2020.
The department found the largest surge in new claimants came in April 2020, just one month after lockdown began, where they rose by 40%. But the figures show numbers have continued to rise by around 2% in the last three months.
Since 13 March 2020, there have been a total of 4.5m claims made, which constitutes nearly two-fifths (39 per cent) of the total 11.4m claims made since the benefit programme was introduced in April 2013.
The figures showed a further 75,000 new claims were made in the first week of 2021 as new national lockdowns were announced in Scotland and England.
It comes after a fresh analysis from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed the UK’s unemployment rate rose to 5.1% in the three months to December, the highest in almost five years.
They found 726,000 fewer people were currently in payrolled employment than before the pandemic began, including 425,000 people below the age of 25.
Around 1.75 million people were unemployed in the three months to December, a rise of 454,000 on the same period in 2019.
But the group said there was “tentative early signs” of recovery after they found 83,000 more people were in payrolled employment in January compared to the previous month.
Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician at the ONS, said: “The latest monthly tax figures show tentative early signs of the labour market stabilising, with a small increase in the numbers of employees paid through payroll over the last couple of months – though there are still over 700,000 fewer people employed than before the start of the coronavirus pandemic.”The grim job figures are likely to pile further pressure on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to extend the £20 uplift in Universal Credit when he delivers his 3 March Budget.
Campaigners, charities and some Tory MPs have already called on Sunak to scrap the end-of-April deadline for slashing the top-up payments, with a recent report from the Fabian Society warning the move would push 760,000 people below the poverty line.
Speaking on Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson hinted that the benefit uplift alongside other support measures would not be scrapped, saying the government would “not pull the rug out”.
“People may be concerned about what these changes mean for the various support packages for livelihoods, for people and for the economy,” he told MPs.
“We will not pull the rug out. For the duration of the pandemic, the government will continue to do whatever it takes to protect jobs and livelihoods across the UK.”
And the Chancellor promised to use next weeks Budget to do “everything” he could to protect jobs.
“I know how incredibly tough the past year has been for everyone, and every job lost is a personal tradegy,” he said on Tuesday.
“That’s why throughout the crisis, my focus has been on doing everything we can to protect jobs and livelihoods.
“At the Budget next week I will set out the next stage of our Plan for Jobs, and the support we’ll provide through the remainder of the pandemic and our recovery.”
But shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds said the Prime Minister’s “roadmap” had not provided sufficient “certainty” for businesses.
“Businesses have been put through an enormous amount of uncertainty,” she told the BBC’s Today programme.
“They should now know that the business rates holiday will continue, that the VAT reduction for hospitality business will continue.”
She added: “The prospect of not having clarity means that many of those businesses and their owners are simply throwing in the towel.
“And we cannot afford that in the UK when we’ve already had record redundancies.”