‘I need loans for basics’ - number of people claiming Universal Credit nearly doubles
PUBLISHED: 07:47 23 February 2020 | UPDATED: 09:04 23 February 2020
Universal Credit is ‘plunging people into debt’, campaign groups say, as figures show the number of claimants in the east has risen to 214,000.
Data released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) shows nearly twice as many people are claiming Universal Credit (UC) in Norfolk and Waveney compared to last year, with 44,308 people claiming it last month.
Just 12 months ago 24,933 people in the region were claiming UC, showing an increase of 178pc year-on-year.
Will Quince, minister for welfare delivery, said this shows the scheme "is helping to support thousands of people across the east of England as they look for work".
The DWP added the UK's employment rate is at a record high of 76.5pc and says the increase is due to the initial roll out of UC.
But action groups and those on the scheme claim it forces people into food banks and payday loans.
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"The number of claimants has doubled, and food banks in the region have also seen twice as many people this year," said Mark Harrison, chairman of Norfolk Against Universal Credit.
"UC plunges you into debt which you are forced to repay back at an unreasonable rate further compounding the debt."
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Launched in 2016, UC merged six benefits in a rework of the benefits system that sees payments reduced as you earn more.
The scheme was criticised after former chancellor George Osborne made it so those on the scheme and working would pay the government 63p of every £1 earned.
Mr Harrison said: "It's indicative that we live in a region where wages are below the national average, people can't live on slave wages.
"People have less to live on, and this has a knock on effect on the NHS and mental health services."
UC became more controversial as stories emerged of claimants taking up to five weeks to be paid, leading some into taking payday loans or using food banks.
Figures show Great Yarmouth and Waveney have the greatest number of UC claimants, though the largest increase was in Norwich.
A claimant from Lowestoft said: "I get less money than on the old benefits system. I use food banks and get loans just to afford mere basics, as I have been left waiting without money.
"The old system was abused but I don't think UC is good either."