Alarm as Universal Credit applications boom ‒ in London’s affluent Kensington and Chelsea

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Universal Credit: Sunak slammed for 'foolhardy' decision on cuts

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According to the latest data from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the number of people claiming Universal Credit has soared from pre-pandemic levels. Across Britain, around 5.6 million people were on Universal Credit in February 2022, up from 2.9 million in the same period in 2020.

The increase means a total of 10.6 percent of the over-16 population of the UK now claims Universal Credit, up from 5.5 percent before the pandemic. 

And it is not just deprived areas that have seen a notable uptick in applicants – the data shows that typically wealthy, “levelled-up” areas are among those with the biggest increase. 

Topping the list is the Queen’s Gate neighbourhood in London’s affluent Kensington and Chelsea borough, which has seen a jump from 56 people on Universal Credit in February 2020 to 399 people in February 2022 – that’s a 613 percent increase.

Five of the neighbourhoods in the top ten increased areas are in London, with Manchester, Surrey and Scotland neighbourhoods also featuring.

Top ten UK neighbourhoods with the biggest rise in benefit claimants:

  1. London – Kensington and Chelsea – Queen’s Gate – Increase of 613 percent between 2020/22
  2. Greater Manchester – Manchester – Castlefield & Deansgate – Increase of 500 percent between 2020/22
  3. London – Westminster – Paddington & St George’s Fields – Increase of 390 percent between 2020/22
  4. London – Camden – Fitzrovia East & Bloomsbury West – Increase of 377 percent between 2020/22
  5. Scotland – Aberdeenshire – Fetteresso, Netherley and Catter – Increase of 359 percent between 2020/22
  6. London – Camden – Holborn, St Giles & Bloomsbury South – Increase of 341 percent between 2020/22
  7. Greater Manchester – Manchester – Piccadilly & Ancoats – Increase of 310 percent between 2020/22
  8. Surrey Guildford – Pirbright & Normandy – Increase of 310 percent between 2020/22
  9. London – Westminster – Bryanston & Dorset Square – Increase of 308 percent between 2020/22

Opposition MPs and campaign groups are now urging Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak to do more to help struggling families as the cost of living crisis bites and benefits fail to increase accordingly. 

Benefits and the state pension will rise by 3.1 percent in April, well below inflation, which the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) said could reach a 40-year high of 8.7 percent by the end of 2022. 

MPs have said Mr Sunak could have done more for those on Universal Credit, as soaring household bills far outstrip the benefits increase. 

But Mr Sunak told MPs that he had announced “targeted support to those who need it most”.

Defending his decision in front of the Treasury Committee last week, Mr Sunak said tax cuts and support for energy bills were among a number of “progressive” measures that would help those on low pay the most.

The committee chairman, Conservative MP Mel Stride, asked the chancellor if his Spring Statement gave those on benefits any “cause for hope”.

Mr Sunak said “there’s an enormous amount of spending going on” and “the vast majority of people” on benefits will be better off as a result.

Asked why he chose not to boost benefits faster, Mr Sunak cited operational issues and his unwillingness to increase Government borrowing.

He said: “My job is to make the right long-term decisions. My view is an excessive amount of borrowing now is not the responsible thing to do.”

Analysis by the Resolution Foundation think tank suggests that 1.3 million more people in Britain would be pushed into “absolute poverty” from April.

Meanwhile, living standards are predicted by the OBR to drop by 2.2 percent this year – the largest fall since the post-war period of the Fifties.

However, for the poorest in society, that drop is expected to be closer to six percent. 

Labour MP Angela Eagle asked Mr Sunak: “Why haven’t you done more to help those who are really going to struggle massively with this cost of living situation?

“You’ve made a political choice to plunge 1.3 million people including half a million children into poverty.”

Mr Sunak said “global forces” were causing prices to spike and living standards to drop.

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