The number of people claiming universal credit in the UK has doubled since the beginning of pandemic, show new figures, raising new concerns about plans to remove the £ 20 increase for the to benefit in April.
Government figures released on Tuesday show that the number of people receiving social security benefits increased from 3 million in March 2020 to 6 million last month.
The biggest monthly increase was in April, when the number rose 40 percent. But the number of claimants has continued to increase month by month, increasing by 2 percent – or about 90,000 people – in each of the past three months.
About 446 people were still applying for universal credit every hour in the first week of 2021, and a total of 4.5 million people have applied for the benefit since the coronavirus broke out in the UK last March.
The figures show that more than 620,000 families with children have started claiming the benefit since the start of the pandemic, marking an increase of 51 percent. Two-thirds of the families that now receive universal credit are single parents and about 90 percent of single parents are women.
The figures generated renewed concern about government plans to remove the £ 20 increase in universal credit, introduced last April to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus on family finances, which is currently due to end on March 31.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak it is reported to be pushing against extra payments, which cost £ 6 billion annually, being maintained despite intense opposition from some conservative parliamentarians, opposition parties and anti-poverty activists.
ONE report by the Labor and Pensions Committee Earlier this month, he warned that removing the extra payment would represent a government “failure” to recognize the reality of people struggling as a result of the pandemic.
In January, the Resolution Foundation’s think tank warned that millions face the sharpest drop in living standards in a generation and the decision to keep increasing benefits “would help to define whether this is a parliament of ‘leveling’ living standards or increasing poverty ‘.
A universal credit claimant, Elaine, from Stockport, was released from her job as a legal secretary last March and fired in October. She signed up for the benefit and has been looking for a job ever since, but found an uphill battle.
Things have been more difficult since the new year, as she is also teaching her daughter home lessons, which means spending more on heating and a larger food bill.
Elaine said: “I didn’t choose this new lifestyle. After working for 30 years, it is devastating to see everything go up in smoke. Our goal is to manage, but I don’t have a contingency plan.
“If we lose those extra £ 20 a week in April, I just don’t know how I’m going to deal with it. That would be the finished food store. The scraping stress week after week is really affecting me and has been made worse by that extra uncertainty. “
In light of the latest figures, Alistair Cromwell, acting chief executive of Citizens Advice, warned that the loss of the £ 20 increase “could spell financial turmoil” with “increased debt and hardship” for many families who are already struggling.
Maggie Bonser, a consultant for Citizens Advice Rotherham, echoed her concerns, saying, “We are having to inform people that their benefits may drop £ 20 a week in April. For someone who is already struggling, this is catastrophic. They simply have no room for maneuver in their budget.
“Many want to work, but are facing a brick wall because there are no jobs. Others work, but with reduced or variable hours. A cut in your benefits would mean lost bills, arrears and difficult choices between turning on the heating and eating. “
Jamie Grier, director of external relations at Turn2us, said the continued high number of new applications for universal credit demonstrates that the economic consequences of the pandemic “are still in full swing.”
“The government did the right thing by introducing the lift in the first place, and now they must do the right thing, making it permanent and extending it throughout our social security system. Otherwise, have no doubts, poverty will increase and the economic recovery will be slower ”, he said.
Becca Lyon, head of child poverty at Save the Children, said that even with an extra £ 20 a week, parents were having to make “impossible choices”, like skipping meals, accumulating debt or depending on charities and food banks for feed your children.
“Our country’s safety net should help those who need it in difficult times.” But instead of helping families to recover, we are talking about taking £ 1,000 a year from them during a pandemic, ”she added.
Welfare Minister Will Quince said that universal credit is a “vital safety net” that “faced the challenge” of the pandemic, and said that thousands of new technicians work that the DWP was helping applicants to rebuild with a personalized support.
He added: “Universal credit is one of the pillars of our support for low-income families. In parallel, our Covid winter grant scheme [CWGS] is keeping vulnerable children warm and well-fed, and our Employment Plan is helping people to recover and work, with almost 2 million people being supported through innovative programs like Kickstart and targeted support for entry into employment [Jets] scheme. “