The number of people claiming Universal Credit in the Highlands increased by 75% last year, as the pandemic took its toll on jobs – with one area recording a 186% rise.
Statistics recently published by the Department for Work and Pensions show the devastating impact the virus and lockdown had on the region between March and December 2020.
All of the 56 areas in the Highlands saw a significant increase in Universal Credit claimants, with 49 rising by more than 50% and 19 of them by 100% or more.
The largest increase was in Skye North West, where 183 people were claiming the benefit in December last year compared to 64 in March – a rise of 185.94%.
The two other areas on the island, Skye North East and Skye South, also saw increases in excess of 130%.
Universal Credit can be claimed by people who are unemployed, or to provide top-up amounts for those who are on low incomes.
The DWP figures show that 11,318 people were claiming the benefit in the Highland Council area in March last year, as the first Covid-19 lockdown was about to be imposed.
By the end of the year, that number had reached 19,899.
Alasdair Christie, the council’s depute leader and chair of the recovery board, said: “These figures paint a very sobering picture and quite clearly illustrate the catastrophic impact that the pandemic is having within Highland communities, which of course impacts local spend and therefore our local businesses.
“This scale of increase in the take-up of Universal Credit simply hasn’t been seen before and demonstrates just how severe the financial situation is for many Highland residents.
“The fact that more than a third of the 56 geographical areas within Highland are experiencing such eye-watering increases of more than 100% in the number of Universal Credit claimants is a real cause for concern and underlines the disproportionate financial impact of Covid-19 for an increasing number of our citizens.”
He added: “The council’s Welfare Support Team and Citizens Advice are supporting an increasing number of households to claim all the financial support that is available to them, including the local scheme recently launched by the Council to reduce fuel bills.
“No-one should suffer in silence. My advice is to contact the Council’s Welfare Support Team on 0800 090 1004 or to contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau to access the expert advice and support that is available.”