Number of Universal Credit claimants triples in affluent areas of Norfolk
- Credit: PA
With the numbers of people turning to Universal Credit doubling in Norfolk last year, charities are reporting that those in previously stable jobs are now needing help.
Data from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) reveals 83,000 people in Norfolk and Waveney are now on Universal Credit - a rise of 100 percent from January 2020.
Norfolk’s Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) said that 79pc of people now seeking advice on benefits have never needed the charity’s support before.
And research by this newspaper shows that the biggest increase in benefit claimants is happening in wealthier neighbourhoods.
The number of claimants from the poorest neighbourhoods, including places like North Lynn and the Earlham area of Norwich, rose by 72pc between January and December last year. Meanwhile claimant numbers in the most affluent areas rose by 162pc.
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Worst affected was the Earlham Road and College Road neighbourhood in Norwich, where the number of claimants rose by 255pc to 522 last year.
Taverham also saw claimant numbers triple in 2020 to 436 by December.
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The Snetterton area and Wootton in West Norfolk also saw claimant numbers rise by 211pc – to 311 and 119 claimants respectively.
One claimant, who asked not to be named, used to earn £40,000 a year. He said the extra money kept his family’s head above water.
“My income has been reduced from £40,000 a year to just £10,000,” he said.
“We struggle as it is. I don’t know how we would pay all the bills, eat and keep warm enough.”
Labour city councillor for Norwich's Town Close ward, Karen Davies, said she had also noticed a rise in more middle class people needing help.
“At the NR2 foodbank we’ve had people coming in who were in relatively good jobs. They can’t easily access support to pay their mortgage after their five-month mortgage holiday ends. They have worked their whole lives and are terrified.
“There tends to be a stigma around the deserving and undeserving poor. But now for the first time we’re seeing people that the government would see as aspiring, middle class types who are in this situation.
“They are tied into mortgages, phone and car contracts that don’t stop. People are really struggling with the stress and uncertainty.”
A cut is coming
In April last year the government temporarily increased Universal Credit by £20 a week, providing a lifeline to struggling households.
But now, thousands of people are facing the prospect of losing that extra money when the uplift ends this April.
In Westminster it has caused a political row, but for the more than 80,000 people in Norfolk and Waveney on Universal Credit, £20 pounds extra a week can be the difference between feeding their family or going hungry.
“I would struggle to make ends meet,” said one claimant, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“The £20 has made a massive difference. It has kicked us over the line to a point where we can break even.”
The greatest number of claimants were in Norwich, where 15,013 claims were recorded, up from 6,498 in January – a rise of 131pc.
Norwich North Conservative MP Chloe Smith said the figures underline the scale of the challenge the city is facing.
“I know how worried people are - about their health, the health of their loved ones, their jobs, their businesses, and their financial security,” she added. “And that’s why it's right that the economic priority has remained the same: protect jobs.”
Of all Norfolk's council areas, the biggest rise in claimants was in Broadland. The number surged by 167pc to 4,257 by December.
Broadland Conservative MP Jerome Mayhew said he received day emails from constituents, some arguing for more restrictions, others arguing to open up the economy, and added the increase was a “stark reminder of the heavy human cost to locking down the economy”.
In North Norfolk the rise was 148pc – from 2,572 to 6,366. There, Conservative MP Duncan Baker said he had been lobbying the Treasury for more support for those worst affected.
“The pandemic has hit a number of people and businesses hard, especially in North Norfolk, where we are particularly exposed to changes affecting the leisure & hospitality industry,” added.
Both King’s Lynn and West Norfolk and South Norfolk saw rises of 144pc.
But in Yarmouth Parade, which ranks as one of the most deprived areas in the country and remains the place with the highest number of claimants in the county, the rise in claimant numbers was only 41pc.
Poorer areas like Gorleston North and Lowestoft Central also saw relatively low increases of 37pc and 38pc respectively, with the lowest being the 34pc seen in Lowestoft Harbour and Kirkley.
Christina Arnold, a Universal Credit adviser at Citizens Advice: Diss, Thetford and District said: "Families should not have to survive by relying on food bank provision. We see clients discussing the ripple effects of Covid; needing support with issues such as relationship breakdowns, potential homelessness, employment law and mental health issues.”