THE number of people claiming Universal Credit in Helensburgh has rocketed since the coronavirus lockdown took hold.

Statistics released on Tuesday show that 988 people were claiming Universal Credit (UC) at Helensburgh JobCentre as of April 9, compared to 677 people four weeks previously – a rise of 45.9 per cent.

And the figures also show a particularly steep increase in the number of men claiming UC.

A total of 475 men were claiming UC in Helensburgh on April 9 – up from a figure of 307 on March 12, a rise of 54.7 per cent.

The number of female UC claimants rose by 39 per cent, from 367 to 510, during the same period.

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The figures come as no surprise following the dramatic downturn in economic activity as a result of measures aimed at controlling the pandemic, with millions of people out of work or put on furlough by their employers – and many business owners and freelancers forced to turn to UC to tide them over.

Argyll and Bute MP Brendan O’Hara said: “We are living in extremely challenging times and the steep rise in the numbers of people, especially men, claiming Universal Credit in the last month is unprecedented.

“It is deeply worrying that we are likely to see this figure rise in the months ahead.

"I know from the numbers of constituents who have been in touch over the last few months, that people are really struggling and many have no option but to claim benefits and the support from food banks.

“This is why the SNP has called for the government to introduce a wide-ranging financial package that will help people now and in the future – starting with an emergency basic payment for everyone.

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“The UK Government also needs to seriously consider a Universal Basic Income which would put money directly into people’s pockets, helping ensure a fairer society and strong economic recovery.

“People are struggling through no fault of their own and we need to ensure that everyone that needs it can support their families, pay their bills and keep a roof over their heads.

“We face a severe economic crisis and even with the Job Retention Scheme ensuring that companies and individuals are supported for now, there are still serious gaps in the financial schemes available and we are seeing many local businesses struggling to survive.

“We need the Chancellor to urgently clarify what his plans on the furlough scheme mean for sectors like Argyll and Bute’s important tourism and hospitality industry, and how he thinks businesses are going to be able to meet the shared costs of employees’ wages and recover from the loss of an entire season of income.

“The UK Government also needs to commit to ending austerity and taking Brexit off the table in order to avoid another hammer blow to jobs, businesses and the economy later in the year.”

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Nora Sheridan, Jobcentre employer partnership manager in Helensburgh and Lomond, told the Advertiser: “For the first four or five weeks after the pandemic situation started our efforts were concentrated on making sure people were paid on time and got their money.

“Jobcentre staff have processed 1.9 million UC claims since March.

“Now we’re turning our attention to making contact with everyone who has made a claim, phoning them individually, offering support and making sure they are comfortable using the system: a lot of claimants have never been in this situation before and we want to be able to support them in whatever way they need.

“I’m working with local partners on putting together bespoke packages for customers and making sure we continue to support employers, both now and when lockdown ends.”

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