I’ve called on the government to scrap its unjust cut to Universal Credit as new figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the unemployment rate has jumped to 5%.
In the three months to November, there was a sharp increase in unemployment while the employment rate continued to fall, the ONS found. During the period, 398,000 fewer people had jobs – the largest increase since December 2009, during the global financial crisis.
Figures for December show that the number of jobcentre claimants in Sheffield has more than doubled since the pandemic hit the UK. Last month, 23,445 people in Sheffield were out of work and claiming work-related benefits. On 12 March, just before lockdown began, the figure stood at 11,865.
The government’s Job Retention Scheme will end on 31 April and will see many workers laid off, with the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasting that unemployment will peak at 2.6m in the second quarter of this year – a rise of one million since the fourth quarter of 2020.
During the same month, the government is also planning to cut Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit by over £1,000 a year, which will hit 6 million people across the country. 2.7 million furloughed workers will also be hit by Boris Johnson’s plan to hike council tax by almost £100 for families across England in April.
The government’s mismanagement of the pandemic response has left the UK with soaring unemployment and the worst recession of any major economy. And when families are already struggling financially, Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak plan to slash Universal Credit and hike council tax. That isn’t just deeply unjust, it’s economically reckless.
If families are forced to tighten their belts even further, they’ll spend less on the high street and more businesses will see their incomes reduce. This will deepen the recession and could lead to a spiral of unemployment as firms continue to struggle and lay off staff.
The government must stop attacking families’ incomes, give businesses the support they need to stay afloat and implement an emergency retraining programme now.