The leader of the Labour group on Dundee City Council, Kevin Keenan, has discussed the “alarming” rise in Universal Credit claims since the coronavirus pandemic.
The number of Dundonians claiming Universal Credit rose by a whopping 517% in the first month of the pandemic.
Statistics from the Departmaent for Work and Pensions show 3,396 people registered for the benefit between March 12 and April 9 – a huge increase on the period running from February to March, when 550 people signed on.
The vast majority of the new claimants are either required to look for work or are preparing to start a job.
Mr Keenan, who spoke to the Tele via a video chat alongside council leader John Alexander, said: “I think there’s very little a council can do proactively around these figures, other than deliver the best level of support that they can.
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“There’s a number of factors that have driven these things, but I suppose the real worry is that we as a council have spent somewhere in the region of £17 million, between loss of income and additional things that we’ve had to put in place, to cope with this crisis.
“We’ve got a lot of charities doing their best to help feed people. But society needs to step up as well.
“As the money in individual people’s pockets becomes less, then it will become very difficult for people to put their hand in their pocket and support charities at the same level that they’ve been doing.”
Mr Keenan said both the council and other organisations around the country needed to plan how to support the most vulnerable in society, particularly those living in food or fuel poverty.
He added: “I think the figures are alarming, that in such a short period of time, so many people have needed to go for that level of support, given that there’s been the furlough scheme that has been very helpful for some.
“The fact that it’s been extended until October might well ease some of the issues around getting back to normal, and perhaps having people out, with a bit of money, spending in our local economy, which will help matters.
“It might be that people don’t go to theatres, or they don’t go back to pubs, or they don’t go and sit in restaurants any more, because of the fear.
“The alarming facts are; it appears the economy is going to shrink and people will lose their jobs.
“Will we see some of these people who were self-employed coming off that Universal Credit and back (to work) again? Or will it take a bit of time before their job has picked up enough, to self-sustain them?
“A lot of questions are needing answered.”