Rise in benefits claims expected in South Tyneside as pandemic bites in borough

Town hall chiefs are braced for a rise in numbers claiming benefits as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

Tuesday, 13th October 2020, 1:23 pm
There are fears for widespread job losses, despite the Government's furlough and wage subsidy schemes

Despite initiatives such as the government’s furlough scheme, many families in South Tyneside have found themselves needing extra help to make ends meet over recent months.

But with uncertainty over future state assistance and many businesses struggling just to keep trading in the face of new restrictions, it is feared even more households could be pushed into applying for welfare.

“We did see an increase in the number of people claiming Universal Credit [during the pandemic], as we expected,” said Anna Milner, housing strategy operations manager at South Tyneside Council.

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“And we’re gearing ourselves up to see further increases as unfortunately redundancies are likely to increase and the end of furlough may leave a number of people at higher risk of losing their jobs.

“The economic uncertainty of the area lends itself to people needing more support.”

Milner was speaking at a meeting of the borough council’s People Select Committee, which was held by video link and broadcast via YouTube.

The ‘full service’ rollout of Universal Credit, the government’s flagship benefits reform programme, began in May 2018, with a focus on getting claimants to take more control of their personal budgeting.

According to a report for the panel, the council is preparing to launch a new campaign promoting ‘benefit checks’ to make sure households are claiming all the income they are entitled to.

But there are concerns previous plans may need to be rewritten to account for an influx of applications from people with little or no prior experience of the benefits system.

Milner added: “A lot of the people claiming Universal Credit since COVID are a different cohort, a different profile.

“We’re seeing people who were employed for long periods of time who don’t have a good knowledge of the benefits system and who have other challenges in terms of claiming benefits and knowing where to go for support.

“We’ve had information that there’s a number of people in the 50+ age bracket now finding themselves having to apply for UC which brings its own challenges for re-skilling and some of the barriers they may face.”

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