Universal Credit claims up 120,000 in Wales since coronavirus outbreak

Results show that 120,000 people applied for universal credit from March until May. Credit: PA.

There have been at least 122,160 claims for Universal Credit in Wales since 1 March, new figures have revealed.

At the peak of the crisis, the Department of Work and Pensions received more than 6,000 new claims per day as households bore the effects of the lockdown.

The data was submitted to the Welsh Affairs Committee as part of an inquiry into the Welsh economy and Covid-19.

It comes as the country continues to suffer the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, with no dates set on when lockdown will be lifted.

The increase has been described as "deeply troubling'"by MP Stephen Crabb.

Mr Crabb, chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee said: "These figures are deeply troubling. They reveal tens of thousands of people in Wales falling into financial hardship as the economic impact of the lockdown bites.

"No one wants to see a return to the days when Wales was blighted by high levels of unemployment. So there is a huge challenge for all levels of government if we are to avoid long-term deep scarring of the Welsh economy.”

The figures reveal that at the beginning of March, the number of individuals in Wales claiming Universal Credit each day was in the hundreds.

But by March 16th, when the effects of the pandemic were beginning to be felt, that number had increased to 1070. And by March 27th, the number had peaked at 6860, just days after the official start of lockdown on March 23.

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Therese Coffey, said the figures showed Universal Credit had "stood up to the challenge" in an unprecedented time.

She added: “Our dedicated staff have been working flat out to process claims and make sure people are paid on time – they are some of the hidden heroes of this emergency.

“I know this is a difficult time for many and that’s why across the UK we’ve injected £6.5 billion of extra support into the welfare system, including an increase to the standard rate of Universal Credit of £20 per week.”

These figures give an insight into just how the coronavirus crisis is affecting people’s finances and show just how big a job governments have trying to cushion the blows of lockdown.

According to those at the Department of Work and Pensions, they represent a ten-fold increase in the number of cases they’re having to deal with and when you look at the daily breakdowns it becomes even starker.

At the beginning of March when the threat from coronavirus was still becoming clear the numbers in Wales making new claims was in the hundreds. 240 on March 1st with subsequent days seeing claims between 5-800.

From the 16th March, just before the lockdown fully began, until Tuesday 12th May, there has not been a weekday when fewer than 1,000 new claims have been made.

On the day the lockdown was announced, 5,720 individuals claimed and 6,040 did so the next day. On Friday 27th March, 6,860 people applied for universal credit.

That doesn’t necessarily mean those people are without a job - as Geraint Williams, the service leader for Jobcentre Plus in South East Wales explained: “Just because someone is claiming Universal Credit doesn’t mean they are necessarily out of work completely – many people will be claiming UC to top up their income. And it’s encouraging to see some sectors are busier than normal – supermarkets are a good example of where we are now promoting critical job vacancies.”

But it does show how many people have been suddenly facing up to a life with less money coming in from their jobs.

The official employment figures showed that the number of people claiming unemployment benefits doubled from March to April and it’s expected it will rise further. Ministers in London and Cardiff have said that the economy will go into recession in the coming months.

Tackling the virus has meant drastic measures which have slowed the spread of the virus but are having a massive impact on the economy. These latest figures show - and political leaders already know - that that impact is being borne by individual people. Helping us survive the financial crisis is as big a task as helping us survive the medical crisis.

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