NUMBERS of people who are working while claiming benefits continue to rise after rocketing at the start of the pandemic - and are now more than double what they were before Covid hit.

Figures obtained by the Chronicle show that the number of claimants who were in employment while receiving Universal Credit are approaching their highest-ever level, having previously peaked at 10,014 in December 2020.

As of November, the most recent month for which detailed statistics are available, there were 9,991 people in the borough claiming the benefit while in work - more than one in three of the total number of claimants.

The figure has been on an upward trajectory over the past year, and while the total number of claimants fell slightly - from October’s 26,262 to 26,150 in November - it has been higher than 26,000 for more than 12 months.

Provisional data for December shows a slight rise to 26,331 total claimants, which may mean the number of people claiming while working could reach or surpass its previous record high.

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In February 2020, 4,903 of 15,751 claimants were working while doing so - which increased to 5,124 of 16,224 in March, and then 7,414 of 22,328 the following month, alongside a rise in businesses taking advantage of the furlough scheme.

“It is concerning to see that the number of people in work and on Universal Credit is going up in Barnsley,” said Barnsley East MP Stephanie Peacock.

“Alongside this, the cost of living is rising significantly, forcing people to choose between heating their home and putting food on the table.”

Stephanie’s constituency makes up the second-largest proportion of claimants in Barnsley after Wentworth and Dearne, with November’s figures showing 4,053 people were claiming while working and there were 10,662 in total.

Stephanie added: “We need the government to take action and match Labour’s commitment to ending in-work poverty; opposing cuts to Universal Credit, and allowing those in low-income jobs to keep more of the pay they earn.”

She joined with fellow MPs to heavily criticise the government’s decision to end its £20-a-week ‘uplift’ scheme in October - a decision Barnsley Central MP and South Yorkshire Mayor Dan Jarvis called ‘morally reprehensible and economically illiterate’.

This week, it was also announced the Department for Work and Pensions could owe payouts to thousands of claimants who moved onto Universal Credit from older ‘legacy’ benefits such as Housing Benefit and Jobseeker’s Allowance - after two claimants won a legal challenge after their payments dropped.

People still receiving such benefits are expected to be migrated to Universal Credit - introduced in Barnsley in 2017 - from April, after a national process of ‘managed migration’ was set to start in July 2020 but delayed due to the pandemic.

Dan said: “Whilst it is welcome to see overall numbers of Universal Credit claimants falling, it is concerning that the levels of people in work claiming Universal Credit are rising.

“These figures show that over 10,000 people in the Barnsley Central constituency are in receipt of Universal Credit, each of whom has been hit hard by the Conservative government's morally reprehensible and economically illiterate decision to cut the Universal Credit lifeline of £20 per week.”

John Healey, MP for Wentworth and Dearne - where 4,055 of 10,735 claimants were in work in November - added: “Instead of helping families get by, Ministers are making matters worse by taking away the £20-a-week uplift in Universal Credit and taking more in unfair tax hikes.

“Working families shouldn’t be forced to pay the price for Boris Johnson’s economic failure.”