Peterborough unemployment benefit claims still well above pre-pandemic levels

The number of people claiming unemployment benefits has gone up by thousands in Peterborough compared to the start of the Covid-19 crisis.

By Andy Hubbert
Sunday, 25th October 2020, 7:32 am
Benefit claimants in Peterborough stil way above pre-covid levels according to latest figures. Photo: PA
Benefit claimants in Peterborough stil way above pre-covid levels according to latest figures. Photo: PA

Office for National Statistics data shows 9,805 people were claiming out-of-work benefits in Peterborough as of September 10, a vast rise compared to just 4,805 in early March.

That is 7.9 per cent of the working-age population, up from 3.8 per cent.

The figures include those aged 16 to 64 on Jobseeker’s Allowance and some Universal Credit claimants, who are unemployed and seeking work or employed but with low earnings.

Anti-poverty charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation says the Government must act quickly to stop a wave of unemployment across the UK, including by extending increased help for benefits claimants.

Despite still being much higher than pre-crisis levels, the number getting help in Peterborough was slightly lower than at the start of August, when there were 9,820 claimants.

But national figures, which were adjusted to account for seasonal changes, show the claimant count rose by one per cent to 2.7 million in September compared to the previous month. It was also more than double the number recorded in March.

The ONS cautioned that changes to Universal Credit in response to the virus mean more people could get the benefits while still being employed, which could affect the figures.

Separate ONS data shows UK unemployment rose by 138,000 to 1.52 million in the three months to August compared to the previous quarter – the highest since the start of 2017.

This saw the rate of unemployment jump to 4.5 per cent, from 4.1 per cent in the previous three months. To be counted as unemployed, workers need to be actively looking for a new job.

Redundancies also rose by a record 114,000 quarter-on-quarter to 227,000.

Rebecca McDonald, senior economist at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said the figures were “a stark reminder that this crisis still has a long way to run”.

She added: “This is not the time for half measures. The Government can still act quickly and decisively to prevent a wave of unemployment that will hit the poorest hardest.”

Ms McDonald said the £20 per week increase to Universal Credit – introduced in April – should be made permanent.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak recently announced that the new Job Support Scheme would be expanded to businesses required to shut down due to coronavirus restrictions, with two-thirds of employees’ wages covered by the Treasury.

But in areas where lockdowns do not apply, employers will have to pay for time worked by their employees, which must be at least one third of their usual hours. Business owners and the Government will share the cost of paying for some of the time not worked, giving employees 77 per cent of their normal wage.

Both plans will replace the furlough scheme from October 31.

Ms McDonald said the new support for areas not in lockdown “will do little to protect the jobs of the lowest paid”.

Mr Sunak said: “I’ve been honest with people from the start that we would unfortunately not be able to save every job. But these aren’t just statistics, they are people’s lives.

“That’s why trying to protect as many jobs as possible and helping those who lose their job back into employment, is my absolute priority.

“This is why we put together an unprecedented £190 billion package of support and have a comprehensive Plan for Jobs.”