New research from Citizens Advice reveals one fifth (20%) of UK adults say they have applied or expect to apply for benefits as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. This rises to 68% of people on zero-hours contracts.
The findings come as government data today shows over 1.5 million households made a Universal Credit claim between 1st March and 12th April. First payments for those who applied for the benefit immediately following the lockdown are due tomorrow.
Figures from Citizens Advice show around six million people in the UK (18% of the total workforce) have already seen their hours cut, been laid off or made redundant.
The charity, which has seen nearly 2.5 million views of its online advice on employment and benefits issues since the lockdown began, says gaps in the jobs protections schemes could be increasing the number forced to apply for the benefit. This includes people who are recently self-employed or at higher risk of coronavirus, such as those who are pregnant or have diabetes.
The swift redeployment of staff by the Department for Work and Pensions has helped respond to an unprecedented surge in demand on the benefits system and ensured people can access financial support.
However, insights from frontline advisers at Citizens Advice show the claims process remains problematic for some groups, such as those who don’t have ID or a bank account or those without an internet connection. Accessibility issues have been exacerbated by the necessary temporary closure of libraries and job centres.
Meanwhile 15% of people anticipate having to borrow money from friends or family to cope with the five-week wait before payment if they do have to apply for Universal Credit.
Citizens Advice is recommending the government make immediate changes to Universal Credit so that those who have lost income as a result of coronavirus can access adequate support quickly without getting into debt.
Dame Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:
“Behind today’s figures are families whose world has been turned upside down by coronavirus.
“The Government has worked hard to shore up protections for workers and process soaring claims for Universal Credit. But we know that some people are still slipping through the safety net, often with desperate consequences.
“Plugging the remaining gaps in the employment support schemes could protect more jobs. And for those needing support from the benefits system, turning advance payments into a grant would really ease the burden.”
Jamie McGlynn, a Contact Centre Manager at Citizens Advice Manchester, said:
"Our advisers are receiving calls every day from people whose livelihood has simply disappeared due to this pandemic. Some lost their jobs or were in unstable work when the crisis hit, and others have no income until the self-employed support scheme kicks in.
"Staff are working flat out to help them with their concerns. Alongside issues with making an online application for Universal Credit, we're seeing a lot of people struggling simply because they've never had to access the benefits system. There’s a huge demand for advice.”