Coronavirus: London’s commuter towns see sharp rise in benefit claims

Guildford, Stevenage and Hemel Hempstead have had disproportionate rises in people claiming the benefit.

Nearly 5.5 million people are now claiming benefits across Britain – an 81% increase since March.

Experts said the drop in office-based working in the capital has impacted employment in commuter towns.

Some of those who have applied for Universal Credit were forced to do so because they did not qualify for other government support, such as the furlough scheme or help for the self-employed. BBC analysis of official postcode data from the Department for Work and Pensions shows that Guildford in Surrey had the sharpest increase in the proportion of people moving onto the working-age benefit.

In June, there were almost 37,000 people in the town on Universal Credit – a rise of 148% since March, according to the latest figures.

Two of London’s outer boroughs, Harrow and Kingston-upon-Thames, have also seen increases far in excess of the national average.

Laura Gardiner, research director at the Resolution Foundation think tank, which researches living standards of those on low-to-middle incomes, said the large numbers of workers in London who have still not returned to their offices are contributing to the demand for Universal Credit. Those workers may be able to continue working from home, but lots of the industries around them – the cafes, restaurants, the retail sectors – people who travel into the city to provide services to those office workers, therefore have nothing to do,” she said.

“Those people tend to live on the outskirts of cities, and this is especially acute in London.”

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