Universal Credit: How Lewes and Wealden have been affected by coronavirus jobs crisis

The number of people claiming universal credit in Lewes and Wealden has more than doubled amid the pandemic – despite efforts to protect jobs through the Government’s furlough scheme.

Thursday, 18th March 2021, 5:37 pm
Form filling. Photo: Pixabay

The pandemic has had a devastating impact on the UK economy, with unemployment rising to a five-year high in the three months to December.

In Lewes district, the number of people claiming Universal Credit has risen by 143 per cent – from 3,132 in January 2020 to 7,600 in January 2021, according to provisional figures.

Those aged 60 to 65 have been most affected in the area. This age group has seen the number of claimants rise by 206 per cent.

Councillor James MacCleary, Leader of Lewes District Council, said the rise was shocking – adding that the situation could get even worse when the furlough scheme came to an end in September.

“It will end, and when it does there’s going to be a pretty big spike in people unfortunately not being kept on,” he said.

He called on the chancellor of the exchequer, Rishi Sunak, to make the £20 uplift in Universal Credit payments permanent.

The measure is due to remain in place until September 2021.

“It should be made permanent, particularly given how many people are struggling to make ends meet,” Mr MacCleary said. “There’s increased demand at foodbanks, people are talking about school uniform banks.”

Lewes District Council provides ‘extensive support’ to both businesses and individuals who are looking for work, he said, working with partners including Citizens Advice, the Job Centre, Locate East Sussex and the Chamber of Commerce.

Meanwhile Wealden district has seen a 153 per cent rise in the number of claimants during the same 12 month period, from 3,746 to 9,491.

Those aged 50 to 54 were worst affected, with claimant numbers in this age group rising by 189 per cent.

A spokesman for Wealden District Council said the rise was likely to be a reflection of the impact on employment within and outside of the district as a result of coronavirus restrictions.

Provisional statistics to January 2021 show 10,600 Wealden work placements had been furloughed out of 63,800 eligible – a take up rate of 17 per cent compared to 15 per cent for England overall, the spokesman said.

“The council has continued to support local businesses and self-employed people through a series of national and discretionary support grants,” said the spokesman.

“As of last month, it had paid out more than £6.65 million to local businesses since November, adding to the £41.2 million it has already paid out.”

The council’s apprentice scheme is now in its fifth year and involves five people taking part in a one-year Business Administration apprenticeship, the spokesman said.

The district council is also taking part in the Government’s Kickstart scheme which will shortly be providing number of job placements for 16 to 24-year-old’s on Universal Credit.