Coronavirus: New figures show huge increase in Universal Credit claims across East London between March and April

The Department for Work and Pensions have released new figures which show that the number of univers

The Department for Work and Pensions have released new figures which show that the number of universal credit claimants increased hugely between March and April. Picture: Kirsty O'Connor/PA. - Credit: PA

New figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show that the number of universal credit claimants across east London surged as a coronavirus lockdown became inevitable.

The findings show that each measured area — Barking and Dagenham, Newham, Tower Hamlets, Redbridge and Havering — showed a significant increase in the number of universal credit claimants between the period of March 12 and April 9.

The statistics for the April end point reflect the impact of lockdown, which was formally announced 17 days earlier on March 23.

These local increases reflect the national landscape, explains Romford-based Kay Pegler, a customer service leader at the DWP: “At the peak we were managing around 2.2 million calls a day nationwide.

“Around 1.9 million new universal credit applications have been processed across the UK since March 16, with approximately 500,000 of those people receiving the advanced payment.”

At a local level Kay and her team have been extremely busy, with the leader describing the approach as “all hands on deck”.

She said she is “really proud of what everyone has done”, applauding her colleagues for their dedication in the face of a very difficult time.

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She added: “It was hard for many claimants, because a lot them had never been on universal credit before. The main thing we are concerned with is people’s health and wellbeing.”

The extent of the challenge faced by Kay and her DWP colleagues is reflected in the claimant surge between March and April.

Barking and Dagenham recorded the lowest percentage increase, with claims jumping by 25 per cent, from 14,544 on March 12 to 18,180 on April 9.

The highest such increase occurred in Havering. On April 9 there were 15,029 universal credit claimants in the borough, up 55.8pc from the 9,649 indicated on March 12.

Redbridge was not far behind its neighbour, with a 50.3pc jump bringing the number of claimants from 12,924 in March to 19,423 in April.

Notably, the figures give a constituency breakdown for Tower Hamlets, Newham and Barking and Dagenham, whereas Havering and Redbridge are included as local authorities.

Within Tower Hamlets, Bethnal Green and Bow and Poplar and Limehouse averaged a percentage increase of 35.45pc, with each area boasting similar rises.

This number was slightly lower in Newham, with an average increase of 31.4pc recorded across East and West Ham.

As reflected by Barking and Dagenham having the lowest percentage increase, the borough constituencies — Barking and Dagenham and Rainham — averaged a 28.7pc increase in universal credit claimants between March 12 and April 9.

These spikes, though significant, do not reflect the areas with the greatest need.

For example, though Havering showed the highest increase between March and April, its total number of claimants as of April 9 — 15,029 — was the lowest of all five boroughs, with Tower Hamlets (27,360) the highest, followed closely by Newham on 26,038.

Similarly, although Dagenham and Rainham recorded the lowest number of claimants on April 9, with 8,573, that represented a 33.1pc increase from March 12.

This was the second highest percentage increase for a constituency, behind only Bethnal Green and Bow, where the number of claimants increased by 38.5pc.

Both examples demonstrate that all increases must be viewed in context.

Though the circumstances dictate that greater numbers will require universal credit for the foreseeable future, Kay said the DWP also wants to support people back into work where possible.

She directed those seeking employment in east London to a dedicated twitter page which contains job listings.

Kay said that this has also been a learning experience for the department, who are already evaluating how the measures employed in this crisis can be used moving forward: “Ultimately, we are asking ourselves ‘What do we need to do in the future to make our customers lives easier?’.”

In terms of the present day, Kay said that her team are undertaking the appropriate aftercare with all claimants, having adopted a “holistic” approach designed to help them through this uncertain period.