Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. Welfare
2 April 2020updated 04 Sep 2021 12:45pm

A million people claim Universal Credit in a fortnight – and there will be more to come

The Department for Work and Pensions announced that 950,000 had successfully applied for benefits in two weeks.

By Anoosh Chakelian

In the past fortnight, nearly a million people have applied successfully for Universal Credit. That’s ten times the usual number of claimants in any given fortnight. According to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), a total of 950,000 people applied in the period between 16 and 31 March.

To put these figures in context, there was a 78 per cent rise in applicants to Jobseekers’ Allowance in the year following the 2008 financial crisis, according to calculations by the Guardian – for coronavirus it’s a 500 per cent rise in claims per week.

Graph by Ben Walker

And remember, the DWP has decided to disclose only the successful applicants. The number of people trying to access benefits in this period is likely to be much higher, given anecdotal evidence of long waits on the phone and problems with applying online through the website.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

On the other hand, it would be a mistake to treat this spike in claimants as a measure of unemployment. Over a third of Universal Credit claimants are in employment (36 per cent according to the most recent figures), and it’s likely a significant proportion of new claimants will either be on lower earnings or statutory sick pay.

Content from our partners
The cost-of-living crisis is hitting small businesses – Liz Truss must act
How industry is key for net zero
How to ensure net zero brings good growth and green jobs

The figures are a headache for other government departments because they expose the gaps in the emergency coronavirus response – particularly the employees excluded from the Job Retention Scheme, and self-employed workers who don’t meet the criteria for the freelancer grants. And, as I’ve reported before, even those who are eligible face weeks of waiting for that money to start coming in.

The number of people falling through the gaps wouldn’t matter as much if the UK had a generous and efficient welfare system, but Universal Credit’s longstanding design flaws and process glitches are putting the government’s coronavirus response in a harsh light.