THE number of new Universal Credit claimants soared in the early months of the pandemic – and many continued to need financial support for at least six months.

Across the Bournemouth (BH) postcode area, there were 10,269 new Universal Credit claimants in April 2020 and a further 11,078 in May 2020.

This compared to respective figures of 1,261 and 1,161 from April and May 2019.

The analysis of Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) data by the BBC Shared Data Unit shows that there were eight-fold and nine-fold year-on-year increases for the months of April and May.

Across the UK there was a seven-fold increase on average, with financial experts suggesting parts of the country that are heavily reliant on tourism have been most affected by the Covid-19 jobs crisis.

In BH postcodes, 54 per cent of the new April 2020 claimants and 57 per cent of the new May 2020 claimants were still receiving Universal Credit support six months on.

Meanwhile, in the BCP Council area there was a four per cent increase in the number of in-work Universal Credit claimants from February 2020 to October 2020.

Emma Congreve, who leads the Fraser of Allander Institute’s work on poverty, inequality and inclusive growth, said industries that were immediately affected by the pandemic and had employees with contracts easily terminated, such as tourism, are likely to have contributed to trends in the national landscape.

She added: “Given the shock we’ve seen to the economy, and the lack of a sustained recovery since the pandemic started, it is not surprising that the number of people who have been on universal credit for six months or longer has increased.

“This is a sign that the social security system is working as it should be and providing financial support for households who have seen their income fall either due to being made unemployed, or due to being put on furlough or reduced hours. Until we have confidence in a sustained recovery, it is unlikely that the labour market will expand significantly and these numbers will come down.”

Universal Credit is a means-tested benefit for people of a working age on low income. It replaced income support, Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), housing benefit, child tax credit and working tax credit.

This support is claimed by more than 5.5million UK households. Chancellor Rishi Sunak introduced a £20 a week increase last April as part of his early Covid economic response.

The Government said the boost was only designed as a temporary response to help those unable to work or struggling due to the lockdown.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation – a charity which researches poverty – said millions of households face an income loss equivalent to £1,040 a year, and that 500,000 more people will be driven into poverty.

The Government added that additional help will be set out in tomorrow’s Budget.

A DWP spokesperson said: “Universal Credit has been a lifeline for millions affected by the pandemic and will play a vital role as we build back better to recover our record breaking jobs market.”