Sheffield unemployment benefit claims still far higher than before coronavirus

The number of Sheffield residents claiming unemployment benefits remains significantly above pre-pandemic levels, new figures reveal.
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Anti-poverty charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation warns many could be facing “grinding pressure and uncertainty” about how to make ends meet as government job support schemes wind down.

Office for National Statistics data shows 23,150 people were claiming out-of-work benefits in Sheffield as of July 9, compared to just 11,865 in early March.

That’s 6.0% of the working-age population, up from 3.1%.

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The figures include those aged 16 to 64 on Jobseeker’s Allowance and some Universal Credit claimants, who are unemployed and seeking work or employed but with low earnings.

The number getting help in Sheffield also went up slightly compared to the start of June, when there were 22,765 claimants.

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Across the UK, the claimant count more than doubled to 2.7 million in July compared to March.

The month-on-month increase was more modest – the figure stood at 2.6 million in June.

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The ONS cautioned that changes to Universal Credit in response to the virus mean more people could get the benefits while still being employed, which could affect the figures.

Separate ONS data shows around 730,000 UK workers have been removed from British company payrolls since March, when the Covid-19 lockdown began.

But the official unemployment rate is not rising, staying at 3.9% for April to June – the latest period for which data is available.

To be counted as unemployed, workers need to be actively looking for a new job.

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Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician for economic statistics at the ONS, said there has been a rise in the number of jobless not looking for a position, though wanting to work.

He added: “In addition, there are still a large number of people who say they are working no hours and getting zero pay.

“The falls in employment are greatest among the youngest and oldest workers, along with those in lower-skilled jobs.”

Rebecca McDonald, senior economist at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said the figures suggest many are facing “grinding pressure and uncertainty about how to pay their rent, put food on the table or find a new job”.

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She added: “The latest figures cover a period when the full furlough scheme was still in place and millions were protected from the full force of the economic storm.

“As furlough is wound down, the Government must live up to its commitment to do whatever it takes to support employers, create new good jobs and equip jobseekers with the skills they need to access these opportunities.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the latest labour market figures showed government support measures were working to safeguard millions of jobs.

He added: “I’ve always been clear that we can’t protect every job, but through our Plan For Jobs we have a clear plan to protect, support and create jobs to ensure that nobody is left without hope.”

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