85 percent rise in Universal Credit claimants during Covid could go even higher, warns politician

The increase in the number of people claiming Universal Credit in south Leeds is going to get “worse before it gets better”, a former Leeds MP has warned.

Thursday, 2nd September 2021, 4:45 am
Councillor Paul Truswell, pictured in 2019. Photo: Steve Riding.

New statistics heard at a meeting of Leeds city councillors this week showed the number of UC claimants in inner south Leeds rose by 85 percent after the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The news comes amid plans from the Government to scrap the extra £20-a-week Universal Credit payment from October – as the Chancellor said it was only temporary measure to help people through the pandemic.

Former MP and Leeds city councillor has this week called the developments “disturbing”, and that, when added to the planned scrapping of the Government’s job retention scheme later this month, could add to the numbers of claimants in the city.

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Coun Paul Truswell (Lab) told a meeting of Leeds City Council’s Inner South Community Committee: “It’s really disturbing that the number of people claiming Universal Credit in the last year has almost doubled (in inner south Leeds).

“What is even more disturbing is that things are going to get dramatically worse before they get better. We have the furlough scheme coming to an end but we have also got the Government’s intention to claw back the uplift to UC.

“Given that we know that food is going up rapidly, food poverty will continue to increase, we have fuel poverty – fuel prices are going up. Digital poverty is when people can’t access certain things because they can’t afford the kit or broadband.”

Coun Truswell, the Labour MP for Pudsey until 2010, added: “At some stage, we as a community committee could look at what is available in terms of supporting people now and in the future, in terms of identifying gaps that can be filled?

“We need to be confident that we either have things in place or we can fill in the gaps. We need to do all we can.”

According to a report which went before councillors, the number of Universal Credit claimants in inner south Leeds rose from 4,023 in March 2020, to 7,438 in May 2021. Inner south Leeds is made up of the wards Beeston and Holbeck; Hunslet and Riverside and Middleton Park.

The report stated: “The number of people claiming Universal Credit in the area that were unemployed in May 2021 is 7,438. This is an increase of 85 per cent since March 2020, a decrease of 141 on the previous month.

“The increase in claimants is reflective across all wards due to the impact of COVID-19.

“The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough) will cease at the end of September, and there is an expectation that a number of people will be made redundant which could subsequently increase claimants to Universal Credit.”