THE number of people claiming unemployment benefits in Southampton dipped slightly last month, figures reveal – but was more than double that seen at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Office for National Statistics data shows 11,440 people were claiming out-of-work benefits as of mid-January, down from 11,635 in December last year.

However, the figure was still much higher than the 5,625 recorded in early March 2020.

It means 6.7% of Southampton’s working-age population sought support in January – up from 3.3% 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 287,000 across the south east.

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.

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


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”.