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19 May, 2020 Open access

More than two million people claimed unemployment benefits in April 2020

Increase represents a monthly rise of more than 69 per cent, according to new figures from the Office for National Statistics

More than two million people claimed unemployment benefits in April 2020, according to new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Publishing its latest release of Estimates of employment, unemployment and economic inactivity for the UK, the ONS reports that, while unemployment rates were relatively level over the year to March 2020, the number of people claiming unemployment benefits - jobseeker's allowance and universal credit under the 'searching for work' conditionality regime - rose to 2.1 million in April 2020, an increase of 69.1 per cent over the previous month - 

NB - the figures are referred to as 'experimental statistics' - in the testing phase and not yet fully developed - as movements in the claimant count have been significantly affected since 2013 because a broader span of claimants became eligible for unemployment-related benefit under universal credit than under the previous benefit regime.

However, the ONS advises - 

'As part of the UK Government's response to the coronavirus (COVID-19), a number of enhancements were introduced to universal credit. These may have increased the number of employed people eligible for universal credit through their earnings falling below income thresholds. Such claims will generally fall within the work search conditionality within universal credit.

Consequently, while some of any change in the claimant count would be because of changes in the number of people who are unemployed, a certain amount of the change will be because of changes in the number of employed people who are eligible for universal credit as part of the government response. We are not able to identify to what extent these two factors have affected the numbers.'

NB - alongside a briefing note on job vacancies during the COVID-19 pandemic, Senior Research Economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies Xiaowei Xu commented - 

'Job vacancies almost completely dried up in March and are now only tentatively recovering in the health and social care sector and barely at all in other parts of the economy. Health and care jobs generally require a high level of training, which means that workers who have been furloughed or made unemployed will struggle to fill these jobs. For those who remain employed, the collapse in job vacancies will severely limit their ability to move between jobs, which is an important channel for wage progression especially among younger workers.

The fact that there has been no recovery in vacancies in the most deprived local authorities is also worrying, especially because it will be risky to travel far for work on public transport.'

For more information see Employment in the UK: May 2020 from ons.gov.uk