Simon Harris, chief executive of North Staffordshire Citizens Advice Bureau, said the changes announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak as the UK continues to fight the coronavirus pandemic, may not go far enough. Union leaders also called for an emergency boost to Universal Credit to help people get through the coronavirus crisis as they warned people would be plunged into poverty.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Unions have worked closely with Government during this crisis to protect livelihoods, but there is still more to do.
“People who lose their jobs must get the support they need to make ends meet and to get back on their feet.
“If we don’t urgently boost Universal Credit many risk being plunged into poverty.
“We need a social security system that can deal with the current pandemic and beyond. It’s time to start a national conversation about how we repair Britain’s safety net and help those who fall on hard times to bounce back.”
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The TUC said that without an urgent increase, unemployment support will be lower in real terms during the current outbreak than during the mass unemployment peaks of the 1980s and 1990s.
A new report published by the TUC said that in 1984 when jobless levels were at 11 percent, unemployment benefit was worth a quarter of average earnings.
In 1993 when joblessness rose to over 10 percent the basic rate of unemployment benefit was worth a fifth of average pay.
But the report said today – even after the recent increase of £20 a week – the basic rate of Universal Credit is worth a sixth of average weekly pay at £94 a week.
Mr Harris told Stoke on Trent Live: “It’s too early to tell whether the system will be able to cope with the surge in demand. I haven’t seen any local figures yet but I expect that the national increase has been reflected here.
“The increased payments they’ve put in place are welcome, although I think there will still be some people who will still be left out of pocket.
“A lot of people of people have applied for UC because they don’t know how they’re employer is going to treat them, and for who furloughing might not be appropriate.
“They will be agency workers who might not be able to be furloughed.
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“And there will be people who own shops which have had to close, as well as self-employed people such as window cleaners who have seen their work dry up.
Around 950,000 people in the UK applied for Universal Credit benefits in the two weeks since Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked people to stay home to limit the spread of coronavirus.
There are normally around 100,000 applicants per two-week period. The government has moved 10,000 staff to process the claims and is recruiting more.
The number of Universal Credit claimants is not a proxy for unemployment figures, as it is possible to apply while still in work, but a YouGov survey on March 24 found that one in 20 people in Britain had already lost their job due to coronavirus.
As businesses, shops, restaurants and bars are closed, the government has offered to pay 80 percent of employees’ wages if their company keeps them on – but there is no incentive for an employer to apply for this.
Britain’s five million self-employed people will not hear about whether or not they are eligible for similar aid until June.
Universal Credit has a waiting period of at least five weeks.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “Universal Credit is delivering vital support to millions of people in these unprecedented times, and from today payments will rise by up to £1,040 a year.
“This Government is committed to doing whatever it takes to help those affected by COVID-19 and has announced over £6.5 billion of additional measures through the welfare system.”
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