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Low wages mean hundreds more workers are claiming Universal Credit

PUBLISHED: 06:00 20 August 2018 | UPDATED: 06:25 20 August 2018

Maureen Reynel at FIND’s Ipswich foodbank. Picture: JAMES FLETCHER

Maureen Reynel at FIND’s Ipswich foodbank. Picture: JAMES FLETCHER

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Hundreds of workers across Suffolk and Essex are claiming Universal Credit as their low wages are not enough to live on.

A hamper at Stowmarket foodbankA hamper at Stowmarket foodbank

Charities say that the “shocking” number of in-work applicants is due to low wages and housing costs.

In some areas, workers claiming the payment represented nearly half of the total people on Universal Credit, according to latest figures from the Department of Work and Pensions.

Universal Credit is a new benefit, slowly being rolled out by the Government, which replaces six legacy benefits and merges them into one payment.

It includes income support, jobseeker’s allowance, employment and support allowance, housing benefit, child tax credits, and working tax credits.

Items at Stowmarket Foodbank Picture: GREGG BROWNItems at Stowmarket Foodbank Picture: GREGG BROWN

In Colchester, there were 240 employed claimants on Universal Credit in July 2018, equating to 47% of the 516 people receiving the payment.

This was 93 more people than the previous month and one of the highest percentages of employed claimants in Britain.

In St Edmundsbury, the number of in-work claimants for July was 943, 142 more than the previous month and around 43% of the total.

In Suffolk Coastal, 169 people out of 413 claiming Universal Credit in July were employed (41%) and in Mid Suffolk, 259 people out of 648 were in-work (40%).

The figures for Babergh showed that 451 employed people were claiming Universal Credit – 39% of the total – and 63 people out of 172 claimants in Forest Heath (37%) were in-work in July.

Overall, there were 1,824 people on Universal Credit in Ipswich, 395 more than in the previous month, with 644 in-work – which is around 35% of the total.

There were 305 employed claimants in Tendring on Universal Credit in July – about 34% of the total – 25 fewer than the previous month.

Maureen Reynel, MBE, of foodbank FIND, which helps people in Ipswich and the surrounding areas who are experiencing poverty, said the charity has seen a increase in demand from a wide variety of people.

“It has been very noticeable for some months now,” she said.

“It isn’t just food, but also household items, which people aren’t able to replace.

“Everyone thinks of families, but it’s also the single people, males and females, who are really struggling.

“Some people have received Universal Credit but are finding huge deductions and have nothing to fall back on.

“It’s definitely had an impact.

“Many people who are working also have childcare costs or work part-time because of childcare and part-time jobs are very often low paid.”

MORE: Foodbank demand meets all-time high in wake of Universal Credit roll-out

The idea of Universal Credit was to simplify the benefits system, however problems with its introduction have reportedly forced benefit claimants into hardship.

The plan was to roll it out by 2017, but a series of management failures meant the Government has put off the completion until 2023.

MORE: Bishops criticise government for ‘failing society’s vulnerable’

Pritie Billimoria, from Turn2us, a charity which helps people who are struggling financially, said it was “shocking” that such a high number of workers earn so little that they are forced to rely on benefits.

“Every day we hear from working people who are living hand to mouth and facing impossible decisions about whether to buy food or pay their rent.

“We know that the rise of in-work poverty and in-work claimants is complicated. Households are dealing with low pay, the rising cost of living and changes to welfare support, which are all having a compounding effect on the daily lives of families across the UK.

“Work needs to be a route out of poverty so people are not left dealing with the intolerable stress and anxiety that their wages don’t cover their basic costs of living.”

Katie Schmuecker, head of policy for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, an independent social policy charity, said: “Low pay and high costs for housing and other essentials mean that for many, work is not providing enough to live on and the social security system needs to provide an anchor against being swept into poverty.

“As well as tackling the cost of living, the Government should act to restore the work allowance for claimants of Universal Credit so that people in work can keep more of what they earn.”

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