A SURGE in benefit claimants which saw 26,000 Barnsley residents require Universal Credit at the height of lockdown has failed to drop despite workplaces reopening, the Chronicle can reveal.

Latest figures - obtained by the Chronicle from 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.

July and August’s figures - at 25,538 and 25,482 respectively - show a minor month-on-month decrease but concern has been expressed at the curve’s slower-than-expected downward trend.

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 were furloughed in Barnsley according to the council - and more than 8,000 self-employed people received financial help - but many are now back in employment ahead of the government’s stopping of the scheme next month.

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A spokesman from the DWP told the Chronicle it remained an ‘unprecedented situation’, but spurts of growth in the job sector have been noted locally.

“The employment rate is at 74.8 per cent - up 0.8 per cent on the quarter and up 0.9 per cent on the year,” they added.

“The unemployment rate is at 4 per cent, lower than the UK average of 4.1 per cent, and a near record low for the region since comparable records began - down 0.3 per cent on the year and down 5.6 per cent on 2010.”

Barnsley East MP Stephanie Peacock added: “I’m calling on the government to step up 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.”