LEADERS in Barnsley have urged the government to provide urgent support to vulnerable households struggling to make ends meet - after latest figures revealed a record-breaking 26,000 residents in the town claimed benefits in June.

The figures - released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) this week - show a total of 25,989 people in the town claimed Universal Credit in June, up by almost 4,000 since the coronavirus lockdown period began in March.

When compared to June last year, the number of claimants has rocketed by 86 per cent across all age groups, with the 18 to 24-year-old bracket being the worst hit with a 108 per cent increase.

Almost 30,000 employees have been furloughed in Barnsley, according to Barnsley Council, as have 8,500 self-employed workers.

A spokesman from the DWP told the Chronicle it was an ‘unprecedented situation’, leading Barnsley East MP Stephanie Peacock to urge ministers to act.

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“Those who have been unable to access financial support have had to survive on Universal Credit payments of £94 a week,” Stephanie said.

“Coronavirus has not hit every household and community the same - too many are struggling to get by at the moment, risking their health and the health of others, to put food on the table.

“I’m calling on the government to step up its financial support to vulnerable people so that everyone can follow medical guidance and reduce the risk of further Covid-19 infections.

“Nationally, the number of households in need of emergency supplies of essentials has doubled compared to this time last year.”

Welfare minister Will Quince MP said the Universal Credit system is providing vital support for those in need - and praised the government for coping with the influx in claims in a timely manner.

“In these unprecedented times Universal Credit is continuing to provide invaluable support to those who need it the most,” he added.

“The system has stood up to the challenge of responding to the pandemic.

“Now as sectors reopen, the challenge is to get Britain back working again.

“The government has announced a suite of measures to support those facing the most financial disruption during the pandemic.

“This includes increasing the standard allowance in Universal Credit by £86.67 per month - equivalent to £20 per week - on top of the planned annual uprating. This means that claimants may be up to £1,040 per year better off, depending on their circumstances.

“We have also made a number of other changes such as increasing local housing allowance rates for Universal Credit and housing benefit claimants, putting an average of £600 into people’s pockets.”