Suffolk's affluent areas see 140% increase in Universal Credit claims
- Credit: PA
With the numbers of people turning to Universal Credit doubling in Suffolk last year, charities are reporting that those in previously stable jobs are now needing help.
Data from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) reveals 86,866 people in Suffolk and North Essex are now on Universal Credit - a rise of 104% from January 2020.
Suffolk’s Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) said that 71% of people seeking advice on benefits have never needed the charity’s support before.
And research by this newspaper shows that the biggest increase in benefit claimants is happening in wealthier neighbourhoods.
The number of claimants from the poorest neighbourhoods, including places like Belstead Hills in Ipswich and Clacton Central, rose by 73% between January and December.
Meanwhile claimant numbers in the most affluent neighbourhoods rose by 141%.
Worst affected was the Layer-de-la-Haye, Abberton & Mersea East area of Colchester, where the number of claimants rose by 229% over the course of 2020, to 286 by December.
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The affluent areas of Framlingham and Fornham saw claimant rises of 186% and 169% respectively.
Other well-off areas where claimant numbers more than tripled included the Pettygate and Westlands neighbourhood of Colchester, where numbers rose by 180% and Debenham, Stonham & Coddenham in Mid Suffolk, where they rose by 184%.
One claimant, who asked not to be named, used to earn £40,000 a year. He said the extra money from Universal Credit kept his family’s head above water.
“My income has been reduced from £40,000 a year to just £10,000,” he said.
“We struggle as it is. I don’t know how we would pay all the bills, eat and keep warm enough.”
A cut is coming
In April last year the government temporarily increased Universal Credit by £20 a week, providing a lifeline to struggling households.
But now, thousands of people are facing the prospect of losing that rise when it ends this April.
In Westminster it has caused a political row, but for the more than 80,000 people in Suffolk and North Essex on Universal Credit, £20 pounds extra a week can be the difference between feeding their family or going hungry.
“I would struggle to make ends meet,” said one claimant, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“The £20 has made a massive difference. It has kicked us over the line to a point where we can break even.”
Suffolk Coastal Conservative MP and Secretary of State at the DWP Therese Coffey said it was good that people were accessing the welfare safety net.
“Universal Credit is a dynamic work-focused benefit that can support lower paid people who have had a reduction in working hours as well as people who have sadly lost their jobs,” she added.
The biggest rise in claimants was seen in Colchester. There, 14,237 claimants were recorded in December, up 135% from January.
Colchester Conservative MP and minister for welfare delivery Will Quince said the government had “wrapped its arms around the British public” by investing £280bn to save jobs and improve welfare.
“Universal Credit is delivering, supporting people in their time of need, and is key to our recovery,” he added.
Other local authorities that saw the number of claimants more than double throughout the year were Ipswich, West Suffolk, Babergh, and Mid Suffolk, while Tendring saw a rise of 98%.
Central Suffolk and North Ipswich Conservative MP Dan Poulter said he was confident the vaccine roll out would soon see people back in work and taking money home.
But he added: “More people are going to need support as we face up to the economic consequences of the COVID pandemic and 2021 is a difficult year for many families."
Suffolk’s Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) said staff and volunteers have helped 5,829 claimants since March last year, of whom 71% of people who asked for help had never needed advice from the CAB before.
Simon Clifton, chief officer of CAB Mid Suffolk said he was “very concerned” at the prospect of the £20 uplift ending in April, and said he was expecting a surge in new claimants once the furlough scheme ends.
“For some families that’s the weekly shopping,” he said.
“People in Suffolk are facing a lot of challenges, not least how hard it is to a new job, and they need support to weather this storm.”