The latest universal credit statistic report, released this morning by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), shows that around 446 people were still making new claims for universal credit every hour in the first week of 2021, and a total of 4.5 million people have made a claim for the benefit since the coronavirus pandemic broke out in the UK in March 2020.
It comes as many people who claimed universal credit for the first time during the pandemic were unable to put aside enough cash to save £10 a month, eat healthily or regularly, or pay bills because the benefit payment was too inadequate, a recent study found.
Thomas Lawson, chief executive at Turn2us, a national charity providing practical help to people who are struggling financially, said the figures highlighted the need for the £20 universal credit uplift announced last year to be extended. He said:
The continued high number of new claims for universal credit further demonstrates that the economic consequences of this pandemic are still in full swing. This is exactly why it would be such a terrible idea to reduce benefit payments by £20 a week now.
The DWP report also shows that 620,000 families with children have started claiming universal credit since the start of the pandemic – a 51% increase.
Becca Lyon, head of child poverty at Save the Children, said:
Providing support for only another six months just won’t cut it. The increase to universal credit in March last year was a clear recognition by the UK government that people who had lost work during the pandemic needed extra financial support.
The UK government must do the right thing and extend the £20 uplift for at least a year, to give families the chance to rebuild their lives and stop even more children growing up in poverty.
The UK should opt for an elimination policy, aiming to have zero Coronavirus cases in communities, experts from Australia and New
Zealand have warned.
The government’s current strategy is to get infections below 10,000 as Boris Johnson announced his road-map out of lockdown on Monday. But experts in countries where they have reduced cases dramatically, have argued that the approach should be one of stamping out the virus entirely.
Speaking at a meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus (APPG), leading epidemiologist Prof Catherine Bennett said in Australia and New Zealand “eliminating [the virus] was the idea”.
Prof Michael Baker, acting head of the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago in New Zealand, said a key factor was how the problem was “conceptualised” early on – with people treating it like influenza and thinking about herd immunity.
He said New Zealand was going to do the same as the UK until it saw the strict Chinese lockdown, where it was treated the same way as a Sars virus and then changed tack.
The deputy chief medical officer for Wales, Chris Jones, has expressed concern and scepticism over the UK government’s 21 June target to lift all limits on socialising in England.
Asked on BBC Radio Wales about the excitement in England the announcement of the date had caused, Jones said:
One is very concerned. The messaging to the public has always been very important here. To send the message that everything is going to be back to normal in a few months’ time is a message with some risk. This pandemic could easily go out of control again. This is a critical time.
There is a real risk of a third wave if restrictions are lifted too quickly and too early. There’s no doubt about that. We still have a vulnerable population. We’ve only had time to vaccinate the most at risk.
He said he would be “very surprised” if all limits on socialising could be lifted in Wales by 21 June. He went on:
I think we all need some hope but we’re not in that position yet.
It is absolutely impossible in my view to say at any given date in several months time that this will be the situation. We have to take things as we find them, step by step. It’s got to be an incremental process. We cannot anticipate several months ahead.