Therese Coffey has said that her department is ready for an increase in claimants and is “evolving plans” to cope
The UK’s benefits system is bracing for up to four million people becoming unemployed in the coming months, due to the economic fall-out of the COVID-19 crisis accelerating.
Therese Coffey, the work and pensions secretary has said to the media that her department has been preparing to support that high level of unemployed, but has said that she “genuinely hopes” that we as a nation do not reach that level of unemployment.
On a visit to promote the new Kickstarter scheme worth £2bn that seeks to get young people who are claiming benefits into work placements, Ms Coffey said that the work and pensions department has taken the Office of Budget Responsibility’s (OBR) unemployment forecast and adjusting their plans to fit that scenario.
This comes after a minister has suggested that tighter social restrictions could potentially be imposed if COVID-19 infections in the UK continue to rise. Helen Whately blames restrictions on household mixing as a newspaper says a government source claims the action “will have to come”.
“I think we’re in a number similar in terms of being ready to help people and trying to help them get back to work as quickly as possible,” Ms Coffey said.
“We’re bringing people into the organisation and in a COVID safe way in order to respond to the challenge.”
“I genuinely hope we don’t reach, obviously, that figure. But it’s important we are ready to help people.”
The number of people in the UK who are on universal credit had soared during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic with 2.7 million people having claimed by August, a 120.8% increase since March.
The department will have hired 25,000 new members of staff in the year to March 2021, which is an increase of a third, as it prepares to cope with the rising levels of unemployment in the country, while also doubling the amount of work coaches that are hired to help people retrain and find work within sectors that have not been crushed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think it’s fair to say the doubling of work coaches is a real investment in making sure we help people, many of whom will never have had benefits and may not have been unemployed or for a very long time,” she added.
“That might be putting their chosen career on hold, just for a couple of years while their sector recovers, but helping them get into some of the growth sectors – construction, other infrastructure, health and social care.”
This comes after over 400 travellers who should have been quarantining under the COVID-19 rules have so far escaped fines because police could not find them at their homes, it has been revealed.
Ms Coffey said: “We’ve never promised we could save every single job or every single company.”
“We will do our best to try and help businesses keep going. But we have reached a point where we absolutely recognise we cannot pretend, we’ve never pretended, we can save every job.”