Huge spike in Universal Credit claimants in Yorkshire, new data shows

Halifax is one of the areas that has been most affected by the Covid-19 jobs crisis, analysis of Universal Credit (UC) claims data suggests.

New research from the BBC Shared Data Unit shows that most people in Britain who started claiming UC at the beginning of the pandemic were still doing so six months later.

This gives a measure of how the pandemic has impacted the jobs market, and some areas – such as the HX postcode area – have been particularly affected.

Department for Work and Pensions data shows that 5,327 people began claiming UC in Halifax in April and May last year – up from just 976 people who began claiming in April and May 2019.

Of that number, some 3,462 were still claiming in October and November, or 65 per cent of the total – which was one of the highest proportions in the country.

To get the latest email updates from Yorkshire Live, click here .

It meant that in total, there were 17,952 people claiming UC in Halifax as of November (the latest figures available).

Experts said many UC claims since the start of the pandemic were from furloughed workers, those in low-wage jobs or on zero-hours contracts, drawing the benefit to top up incomes.

That is reflected in the rising number of UC claimants who are in work – 36% of UC claimants in Calderdale as a whole were in employment in November 2020, compared to 31% in February, before lockdown.

The analysis comes as the government considers whether the £20 weekly increase in UC introduced at the start of the pandemic should be kept in place beyond 31 March.

The government says the boost was only designed as a temporary response to help those unable to work or struggling due to the lockdown.

However, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation – a charity that researches poverty – says millions of households face an income loss equivalent to £1,040 a year, and that 500,000 more people will be driven into poverty.

The government says it has made £280bn available to the most vulnerable families, and that additional help will be set out in the March Budget.

While Halifax has been harder hit than Huddersfield, that doesn’t mean the city has escaped the Covid-19 jobs crisis.
The number of people who began claiming UC in the HD postcode area rose from 1,2836 in April and May 2019 to 7,665 in April and May last year.

Of that number, 4,707 were still claiming six months later (61%).

In total, there were 23,657 people claiming UC in Huddersfield as of November.

Kirklees has also seen an increase in the proportion of UC claimants who are in work between February and November 2020, from 32% to 37%.

Peter Matejic, deputy director for evidence and impact at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “Before the pandemic struck incomes were already falling for the poorest and what we saw during the pandemic was those who already had the lowest incomes were worst hit.

“Quite a lot of these people on Universal Credit at the moment are in one of these precarious situations where they might be on furlough or the business they work for is working out how to survive.

“The fact the number of claimants has gone up – and the proportion in work has gone up – is worrying because that means earnings have fallen.

“But we think it could get worse if lots of those people claiming Universal Credit in work after the end of the furlough scheme move over into the category of out-of-work claimants.

“If you’ve lost your job in an area with very few vacancies, there is very little you as an individual can do to get a job if there is very few around and there is huge competition for them.

Enter your postcode for the latest Covid-19 data for your area

“People we’ve spoken to say they are feeling really under pressure to try and make ends meet and that’s why there will be this need to, post-lockdown, look geographically at which areas are bouncing back quicker and which sectors.

“What we’ve seen is the £20 uplift has been a lifeline for people who’ve received it. We’ve heard so many claimants and recipients of universal credit who have faced extra costs since the start of the pandemic.

“Some have lost their jobs and are suddenly having to cope on a much lower income. It’s just not right to take £1,000 a year away from six million struggling families when we see the jobs market is really tough.”

Across Great Britain, 2.4 million people started a UC claim in April and May last year – up from just 365,000 people in April and May 2019.

Of that number, 1.4 million were still claiming six months later in October and November, or 59%.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “Universal Credit has been a lifeline for millions affected by the pandemic and will play a vital role as we build back better to recover our record breaking jobs market.

“Claims still open after six months in 2020 cannot be compared with 2019 as claims not in payment are being left open for longer during the pandemic to ensure people are able to access support quickly should they need it.

“We are committed to supporting the lowest-paid families, which is why we’re spending hundreds of billions to safeguard jobs, boosting welfare support by billions and have introduced the £170m Covid Winter Grant Scheme to help children and families stay warm and well-fed during the coldest months.”

YorkshireLive – Halifax