DEMAND AN END TO POVERTY THIS GENERAL ELECTION
TAKE ACTION
News

Universal Credit claims soar by 856,000 as virus grips economy

Rocketing benefit claims and unemployment figures risk sweeping people up in a "tidal wave of evictions" later in the year

A young person, seen from above, sits on the floor looking through a stack of bills in front of a laptop

More than two million people in the UK are claiming Universal Credit after Covid-19 public health crisis pushed hundreds of thousands out of work, new figures show.

The concerning numbers mean the country should prepare for a “tidal wave of evictions” if no extra protection is given to private renters when the government lifts bans later this year, experts have warned.

The DWP released data showing a nearly 70 per cent increase in claimants between March and April this year as the country locked down to slow the spread of Covid-19.

And the number of new claims for the unemployment benefit and job seeker’s allowance reached 856,500 in April alone, the biggest increase in claims since records began in the 1970s, as sectors were forced to effectively shut down indefinitely.

It’s likely these numbers would be even higher without the government’s job retention scheme which is estimated to have saved roughly eight million jobs – though ministers have warned that this support could be scaled back come August when employers will be expected to contribute more to subsidise their employees’ incomes.

Separate figures, released by the Office for National Statistics, showed that 50,000 more people were without work between January and March compared to a year ago, a number set to rise as the year goes on.

That is in part because the employment figures don’t yet give a full picture of lockdown’s impact – that data will come later – meaning this rise is only a small indication of the economic devastation expected further down the line.

Research by housing charity Shelter previously suggested that nearly one in five private renters in England, which works out as 1.7 million people, expected they would lose their jobs in the next three months as a result of the labour market chaos.

Shelter chief executive Polly Neate said: “With a huge surge in people applying for benefits and early warning signs of major job losses to come, it’s clear that Covid-19 is going to send shockwaves through our economy like never before.

“We know from our services that thousands of renters are suddenly scrambling to stay afloat, and for those who’ve become unemployed, the furlough scheme is no help at all. Many are turning to Universal Credit in a desperate bid to pay their rent but are quickly finding out housing benefit levels are too low to break their fall.

“People paying average rents face huge shortfalls and many are racking up serious debts that put their homes at risk. Without more support, they will be swept up in a tidal wave of evictions when the government ban lifts. To prevent this, housing benefit must be increased to cover average rents and the benefit cap lifted – to give people a fighting chance.”

Earlier this month the Bank of England warned that the pandemic could plunge the country into the deepest recession in three centuries.

Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician at the Office of National Statistics, said: “While only covering the first weeks of restrictions, our figures show Covid-19 is having a major impact on the labour market.

“In March employment held up well, as furloughed workers still count as employed, but hours worked fell sharply in late March, especially in sectors such as hospitality and construction.

“Through April, though, there were signs of falling employment as real-time tax data show the number of employees on companies’ payrolls fell noticeably, and vacancies were sharply down too, with hospitality again falling steepest.”

The Covid-19 crisis means our vendors are temporarily unable to sell The Big Issue on the streets. You can help us continue supporting them through lockdown by buying one-off issues or subscriptions from The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

You can keep us going by subscribing to the magazine to receive it every week directly to your door or device. Head to bigissue.com/subscribe for more details.

You can also get a copy in stores for the first time. Head to Sainsbury’s, McColl’s, Co-op, Asda or WH Smith to grab the latest issue.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Labour unveils plan to fix rental crisis and immediately axe no-fault evictions
Labour will ban no-fault evictions, confirms Angela Rayner and Keir Starmer
RENTING

Labour unveils plan to fix rental crisis and immediately axe no-fault evictions

UK inflation falls to lowest level in almost three years – but cost of living crisis is far from over
Inflation
Cost of living crisis

UK inflation falls to lowest level in almost three years – but cost of living crisis is far from over

How Nigel Farage could become next Tory leader – and why we all should be concerned
General election 2024

How Nigel Farage could become next Tory leader – and why we all should be concerned

Greek coastguards 'throwing migrants to their deaths' may be repeated in Britain, leaders warned
Greek coastguard ship carrying migrants
Immigration

Greek coastguards 'throwing migrants to their deaths' may be repeated in Britain, leaders warned

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know