UK Universal Credit benefit applications skyrocket since lockdown

LONDON (Reuters) – Around 950,000 people in the United Kingdom have applied for Universal Credit benefits in the two weeks since Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked people to stay home to limit the spread of coronavirus, a government official said on Wednesday.

There are normally around 100,000 applicants per two-week period. The government has moved 10,000 staff to process the claims and is recruiting more.

“With such a huge increase in claims there are pressures on our services, but the system is standing up well to these and our dedicated staff are working flat-out to get people the support they need,” said a spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions.

The number of Universal Credit claimants is not a proxy for unemployment figures, as it is possible to apply while still in work, but a YouGov survey on March 24 found that one in 20 people in Britain had already lost their job due to coronavirus.

As businesses, shops, restaurants and bars are closed, the government has offered to pay 80% of employees’ wages if their company keeps them on – but there is no incentive for an employer to apply for this.

Britain’s five million self-employed people will not hear about whether or not they are eligible for similar aid until June.

Universal Credit has a waiting period of at least five weeks.

The world was shocked last week by one of the most dramatic graphs of the pandemic when the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefit shot up to a record high of over 3 million in the week ending March 21, dwarfing the previous peak of 665,000 in a week in 1982.

U.S. unemployment data for the week ending March 28 is due on Thursday.

Editing by Stephen Addison

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