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NI Universal Credit claimants almost double

Applications rose 10-fold in mid-March, the Communities Department said, while many businesses closed as the pandemic spread rapidly.

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The number of Universal Credit welfare claimants has almost doubled in Northern Ireland, Deirdre Hargey said (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

The number of Universal Credit welfare claimants has almost doubled in Northern Ireland, Deirdre Hargey said (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

The number of Universal Credit welfare claimants has almost doubled in Northern Ireland, Deirdre Hargey said (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

The number of Universal Credit welfare claimants has almost doubled in Northern Ireland.

Applications rose 10-fold in mid-March, the Communities Department said.

Many businesses closed then as the pandemic spread rapidly.

On March 1, the total of adults claiming the unemployment benefit was 70,000.

By April 26 those numbers had risen by 80% to 126,000.

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said: “The number of claims to Universal Credit during this crisis has been unprecedented and demonstrate the scale of the issues people are facing surrounding work.

“From the start of this crisis, my priority has been to ensure that the most vulnerable and those most in need across our society receive all the support and financial help that is available to them.

“The huge increase in claims to Universal Credit since the beginning of this crisis show the scale of job losses here – nowhere has been left untouched.

“This has had a terrible impact on people’s lives.”

Applications for support during eight weeks in March and April totalled 65,700.

The minister added: “Despite these unprecedented numbers, my department was able to make 99.1% of all payments due over that period on time.

“I am very proud of the work my staff are doing and would like to thank them again for the way they have responded to this increase in work, at a time when they themselves have had to adjust to the necessary measures we have introduced to ensure they are protected as key workers.”

Universal Credit is a benefit paid to those who are unemployed or on low income to cover living costs.

The coronavirus infection has seen a huge escalation in uptake as firms lay off workers during the lockdown.

The Government’s furlough scheme is designed to limit job losses by paying 80% of workers’ wages until the end of June.

Fears of another wave of job losses have been raised unless there is continued support from Government as firms get back on their feet when they are allowed to reopen.

Stormont political and medical chiefs have said easing of restrictions will be gradual.

PA