The number of people claiming unemployment benefits has gone up by thousands in Southampton compared to the start of the Covid-19 crisis, new figures reveal.

Anti-poverty charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation says the Government must act quickly to stop a wave of unemployment across the UK, including by extending increased help for benefits claimants.

Office for National Statistics data shows 12,045 people were claiming out-of-work benefits in Southampton as of September 10, compared to just 5,625 in early March.

That’s 7% of the working-age population, up from 3.3%.

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.

Despite still being much higher than pre-crisis levels, the number getting help in Southampton was lower than at the start of August, when there were 12,110 claimants.

But national figures, which were adjusted to account for seasonal changes, show the claimant count rose by 1% to 2.7 million in September compared to the previous month. It was also more than double the number recorded in March.

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

Separate ONS data shows UK unemployment rose by 138,000 to 1.52 million in the three months to August compared to the previous quarter – the highest since the start of 2017.

This saw the rate of unemployment jump to 4.5%, from 4.1% in the previous three months. To be counted as unemployed, workers need to be actively looking for a new job.

Redundancies also rose by a record 114,000 quarter-on-quarter to 227,000.

Rebecca McDonald, senior economist at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said the £20 per week increase to Universal Credit – introduced in April – should be made permanent.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak recently announced that the new Job Support Scheme would be expanded to businesses required to shut down due to coronavirus restrictions, with two-thirds of employees’ wages covered by the Treasury.

But in areas where lockdowns do not apply, employers will have to pay for time worked by their employees, which must be at least 33% of their usual hours. Business owners and the Government will share the cost of paying for some of the time not worked, giving employees 77% of their normal wage.

Both plans will replace the furlough scheme from October 31.