THOUSANDS more people shouldering squeezed finances are claiming unemployment benefits in Barnsley as a knock-on effect of coronavirus, shock new figures have revealed.

The figures - released by the Office for National Statistics - show a total of 9,045 people in the town claimed either Universal Credit or Jobseeker’s Allowance in April, up by 3,685 since lockdown restrictions were imposed a month before.

Barnsley was placed seventh in a table of increases in unemployment in the UK’s 63 largest cities and towns as a result of many firms either furloughing or releasing staff having closed their doors.

Centre for Cities published the analysis, which is an early indication of where the economy has taken the hardest hit since lockdown measures were introduced.

The number of claimants are up everywhere in the country. Cities and towns in the North of England and the Midlands have seen the highest increases in the UK, and have the highest rates overall.

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Coun Tim Cheetham, Barnsley Council’s cabinet spokesman for place, said: “The council was extremely quick in its response to dealing with the economic challenges of Covid-19.

“We knew the ramifications of the lockdown measures would be extremely severe. That’s why we paid out millions of pounds in support to businesses in advance of any money coming through from the government, and we’ve so far paid out more than £39m to more than 3,500 business premises across the borough.

“We’ve also awarded more than £18.8m in business rates relief at 922 retail, leisure and hospitality business premises.

“It is clear however that there will be economic impacts. It is devastating that more people are finding themselves unable to work and are having to rely on employment support benefits to get by.

“We have a jobs-based approach to economic recovery and we’ve been working to make it easier for our residents to access support to help them deal with their current situation and plan for the future, whether they are unemployed, at risk, or in work and wanting to change careers.

“Barnsley residents are able to benefit from a number of free to access employment support schemes, providing career advice and guidance, training opportunities and ways to improve the skills they need to access employment.”

The increase in people claiming benefits corresponds with companies laying off staff, citing an inability to pay wages as business suffers due to forced closure during lockdown and the weakened economy brought on by the pandemic.

The additional cost of dealing with the pandemic and maintaining services ‘far exceeds’ the £14m of government funding the council’s received, according to local authority bosses, while the expected loss of income from council tax, business rates and other charges is anticipated to be £24m, causing a £38m gap in finances.

“We will continue to do all we can to support Barnsley’s economy as fully as we possibly can,” Coun Cheetham added.

“We are certain that we will get through this, and we’ll continue to work together with the community to keep Barnsley moving forward into the next phases of recovering from this crisis.

“We know this will be a challenge, and as made clear in our recent statement on local government funding in response to Covid-19 - it’s critical that local governments across the country are properly funded now and, in the future, to make sure that we can continue to support our most vulnerable residents and communities.”