Almost two million claims for Universal Credit since start of coronavirus pandemic

4 May 2020, 19:38

File photo: Universal Credit claims are six times their usual level
File photo: Universal Credit claims are six times their usual level. Picture: PA

By Ewan Somerville

Universal Credit claims have surged to nearly two million since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, with six times the usual number of applications.

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said there had been 1.8 million claims since March 16.

She said the increase is six times the normal rate, and that claims had hiked “tenfold” in one week since the Government told Brits to follow social distancing rules.

The Cabinet minister told MPs that applications for the umbrella benefit - which includes employment support allowance (ESA) and jobseeker’s allowance - had stabilised at 20-25,000 a week.

Updating MPs on her department's efforts, Ms Coffey said: "Since 16 March to the end of April we have received over 1.8 million claims to Universal Credit, over 250,000 claims for Jobseeker's Allowance and over 20,000 claims for Employment Support Allowance.

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"Overall, this is six times the volume that we would typically experience and in one week we had a tenfold increase.

"The rate for UC claims appears to have stabilised at about 20-25,000 per day, which is double that of a standard week pre-Covid-19.

"We've also issued almost 700,000 advances to claimants who felt that they could not wait for their routine payment and the vast majority of these claimants received money within 72 hours."

Jonathan Reynolds, shadow work and pensions secretary, urged the Government to “widen the safety net” for vulnerable claimants.

"The social security system we had going into this crisis was a safety net with too many holes in it,” he added.

The Labour frontbencher urged ministers to heed calls from charities and anti-poverty campaigners to temporarily suspend the benefit cap, which limits the total amount working age families can claim.

He also called on the Government to scrap the five-week wait for claimants to receive money and the two-child limit, which restricts the £2,780 annual allowance for each child to the first two children.

It comes after the Trussell Trust recorded a huge spike in pleas for essential food parcels during the lockdown, with a record 81 per cent rise in the last two weeks of March.

A coalition of charities, including the Trussell Trust, Independent Food Aid Network and the Child Poverty Action Group, have called for an emergency coronavirus income support scheme to support individuals and families suffering financially.