ROCKETING numbers of Barnsley residents relying on benefit payments have eclipsed the peak of the early 1990s when unemployment was at an all-time high following the borough’s pit closures, the Chronicle can reveal.

Latest figures for November - obtained from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) this week - show 26,446 people in the town are receiving Universal Credit, a rise of 753 on the previous month and 1,018 more than September’s figure.

When the coronavirus pandemic began in March, Barnsley’s claimants hovered around the 22,000 mark but have climbed monthly since.

When compared to August last year, the number of claimants has climbed more than 85 per cent across all age groups, with the 18 to 24-year-old bracket remaining the worst-hit.

MP Stephanie Peacock, whose Barnsley East constituency is one of the poorest in the borough, told the Chronicle: “The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on our local economy.

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“With over 26,000 residents in Barnsley claiming Universal Credit in November, these figures are a sad indictment of the Chancellor’s failure to protect jobs and livelihoods in our community.”

Government documents that show millions on Universal Credit are facing benefit cuts in 2021 - despite the coronavirus pandemic still gripping the country.

In response, the DWP gave an ‘uplift’ of £1,040 a year on top of the standard allowance for Universal Credit, equivalent to £80 extra in the usual monthly payment, or £20 a week.

But the Spending Review 2020 documents confirm claimants’ worst fears that the increases are only in place until April 2021 - and now Labour says six million people will lose out if the government becomes the first since the Great Depression to cut unemployment benefits during a crisis.

“The government must take immediate action to provide extra financial support for tier three areas like Barnsley,” Stephanie added.

“Too many people are slipping through the cracks of the government’s economic support package, which fails to help the businesses and households that need it the most.

“With increasing numbers now forced to rely on Universal Credit, they should reverse the cut to it which is scheduled to take place in April, or risk inflicting further hardship on local families in the new year.”

Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis said: “The numbers of people we see claiming unemployment-related benefits today is now higher than at any time since the dark days of post-pit closure unemployment in the 1990s.

“People are hurting and as we head into Christmas, a time when for many, finances are already stretched to almost breaking point, the addition of this pandemic’s uncertainty will be an enormous burden.

“I’ll be working around the clock to ensure that people in Barnsley get the financial support they need to get through this crisis.”

According to Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis, further increases in the 26,000-plus figure are expected as winter progresses, and he described the rise as ‘deeply concerning’.

“Our economy has been harshly exposed and Covid-19 has hit our area hard,” he added.

“The numbers are now higher than at any time since the days of post-pit closures.

“As we head into Christmas, a time when for many, finances are already stretched to almost breaking point, the addition of this pandemic’s uncertainty will be an enormous burden.

“I’ll be working around the clock to ensure that people in Barnsley get the financial support they need.”