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Dip in demand for out-of-work benefits in Cumbria

The number of people claiming unemployment benefits in Cumbria dipped slightly last month, figures reveal – but was far above that seen at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Office for National Statistics data shows 12,655 people were claiming out-of-work benefits as of mid-January, down from 12,660 in December last year.

However, the figure was still much higher than the 6,980 recorded in early March 2020.

It means 4.3 per cent of Cumbria’s working-age population sought support in January – up from 2.4 per cent nine months earlier.

The figures include those aged 16 to 64 on Jobseeker’s Allowance and some Universal Credit claimants, who are unemployed and seeking work or employed but with low earnings.

Those on benefits last month were among roughly 311,000 across the North West.

National figures, which are adjusted to account for seasonal changes, show around 2.6 million people across the UK were seeking help towards the beginning of the year – down slightly from 2.62 million in December, but well up from 1.24 million in March 2020.

The ONS cautioned that changes to Universal Credit in response to the virus mean more people can get the benefits while still being employed, which could affect the figures.

It also said a small number of people who can claim both JSA and UC could be counted twice.

Separate ONS figures show the country’s unemployment rate rose to an estimated 5.1 per cent in the three months to December – the highest it has been since early 2016.

There were 726,000 fewer workers on payrolls last month than before the start of the coronavirus crisis, the ONS said, with people aged under 25 accounting for nearly 60 per cent of that drop.

But a glimmer of hope in the figures reveals the number of payrolled workers rose by 83,000 between January and February in the second monthly increase in a row.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has pledged to set out his job support plans in the March Budget amid calls for more help from some of the sectors hammered by the crisis.

Mr Sunak said: “I know how incredibly tough the past year has been for everyone, and every job lost is a personal tragedy.”

“At the Budget next week I will set out the next stage of our Plan for Jobs, and the support we’ll provide through the remainder of the pandemic and our recovery,” he added.

Rebecca McDonald, senior economist at anti-poverty charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said although the end of lockdown may now be in sight, the figures are a reminder that “the journey to economic recovery will be long”.

“Unemployment is high and millions of families are already relying on Universal Credit to keep their heads above water,” she said.

“That number will only grow as furlough is unwound and unemployment peaks later this year.”

The JRF is urging Mr Sunak to “reflect” on his plans for future of the £20 weekly Universal Credit uplift, amid reports that it could be extended for another six months.

Ms McDonald said cutting the support as unemployment is predicted to surge “would pull hundreds of thousands into poverty”.