New benefit claims in Ipswich shot up over 500% during pandemic
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
The number of people claiming Universal Credit (UC) for the first time in Ipswich rose by 562% in 2020, as the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic began.
New figures show that in April 2019 there were 1,473 people claiming the benefit payment for the first time, then in the same month a year later there were 9,755 new claims.
Six months later, 5,269 of those people were still relying on the benefit for support in October 2020 — that's 54%.
Nicky Willshere, CEO of Citizen's Advice Ipswich, said she feels like she's sitting below a dam and is scared the financial pressure building behind it will burst through and drown the charity any moment.
"We've had a massive change in dynamics since the start of the pandemic," she explained. "We have more young clients aged around 35 with families in desperate need of advice such as what benefits can I get, can my employer legally do this?
"A lot of these people used to work in sectors hit hardest by Covid, like hospitality, and now they haven't even got enough money to boil the kettle for a cup of tea let alone put the heating on.
"They're at home with reduced finances, they're racking up extortionate energy bills because the kids aren't at school and we're queuing up at pay points to get them emergency payments."
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UC has a month long wait period before cash is handed out and the Citizen's Advice says many clients are desperate for immediate financial help in the days and weeks before benefit payments clear.
One Ipswich client gave up his part-time job as a cook to support his four children after his partner left, and found himself in a dire situation awaiting critical funds.
He needed food vouchers and money for fuel costs when his UC claim was rejected, after his ex-partner's salary was wrongly taken into account.
The money eventually arrived, but he since found out his ex-partner hadn't told him about a number of debts, including a county court judgement.
According to the charity, this story is all too common and there are fears affairs will worsen once extra government support ends in October.