Signs of hope amidst the gloom as Universal Credit claims rocket across East Cambridgeshire and Fenland

PUBLISHED: 16:00 19 June 2020 | UPDATED: 16:00 19 June 2020

How Universal Credit claimants across East Cambridgeshire and Fenland are being helped.

How Universal Credit claimants across East Cambridgeshire and Fenland are being helped.

Archant

Numbers signing up for Universal Credit in East Cambridgeshire and Fenland may have peaked after a massive surge throughout April and May.

Latest figures from the Department of Works and Pensions show that in Fenland the number of claimants last month rose by 2,211 from April to a new high of 8,182.

The trend was much the same in East Cambridgeshire where there was an 1100 increase in claimants to 4,266.

But Stephen Lankester, district operations lead for the Department of Works and Pensions, believes the June figure, though higher, will be less in percentage terms.

“There are some positives” he said, and he expected the number of claimants to slowly begin to fall.

He said his department was calling every single claimant who has contacted them since the outbreak of Covid-19 to provide help and support

With the county’s five job centres closed the emphasis was on one to one telephone contact to offer advice and support.

He said those on benefit prior to then were also being called to ensure they have the right care package.

“We are about people’s welfare,” he said. Providing opportunities for upskilling and suggesting outlets where people may get jobs was vital, he said.

“Take single households for example where perhaps of lockdown they may have had less support,” he said. “The first thing we can check is they have the right support package and we can offer reassurance around benefit. For example, to make that if they have housing benefits, and are being fully looked after.”

He said most people looking for work would have previously come into a job centre weekly or fortnightly but that, of course, had been relaxed both in Cambridgeshire and elsewhere.

There were many things his department could do to help in terms of upskilling, providing interview skills training and mentoring and offering follow up contact.

“Each and every person will be given a work coach, a specific personal work coach to make follow up calls, speak about anything including benefit and getting them back to work ,” said Mr Lankester.

Although work coaches had been available for three or four years it was “completely different now as around 95 per cent of work is over the phone”.

He said with high streets re-opening there were possible job opportunities as some businesses were looking to recruit to fill roles not taken up by those still shielding or self-isolating.

He hoped other jobs would follow the re-opening of the hospitality industry shortly.

Mr Lankester said that with companies taking their staff off furlough there was the possibility of further redundancies that could impact the situation.

He added that the numbers claiming Universal Credit did not automatically relate to the numbers out of work since the claimant figures included those claiming some benefits legally whilst still employed.

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