THE number of people claiming benefits in Swindon has more than doubled since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Office for National Statistics data shows 8,585 people were claiming out-of-work benefits in Swindon as of May 14, compared with 3,500 in early March.

It means the share of the population signing on rose from 2.5 per cent to 6.1 per cent.

North Swindon MP Justin Tomlinson said: “While there has been an increase in those either requiring welfare support, or looking for work in these unprecedented times, Swindon’s diverse and mixed economy is navigating the challenges well, with the latest statistics showing the impact significantly lower than most towns.”

Across the UK, the claimant count more than doubled to 2.7 million on May 14, with separate ONS figures showing the figure stood at 2.8 million for the whole month – the highest since 1993.The claimant rate rose from 3.1 per cent to 6.4 per cent.

Mr Tomlinson added: “Through the furloughing scheme and direct support to businesses of all sizes, we have provided one of the largest financial packages of support for those impacted by Covid-19. We will continue to back businesses to help them bounce back quickly to protect jobs, create new opportunities and return the economy back to normality and growth.”

The ONS figures count those aged 16 to 64 who are on Jobseekers' Allowance and some Universal Credit claimants.

Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds for an urgent “back to work budget” to support jobs through the economic crisis brought about by the coronavirus.

She said: “The government was too slow to recognise the scale of the health crisis from coronavirus and we are already paying the economic price. The window is closing to protect existing jobs and encourage firms to invest in creating new ones.”

Asked on Sky News about possible measures in an emergency budget, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the priority was to drive the recovery by getting businesses open and people back to work.

He added: “We’ve got to look forward and we set out an ambitious agenda at budget as well about investing in our regions, making sure we drive growth and productivity through infrastructure investment.”

Wagestream, which allows workers to 'stream' their income as they earn it, has run its own study and found that the number of JSA claimants in Swindon has increased over the past three months.

Its CEO Peter Briffett said: “We’ve all heard the warnings that the coronavirus pandemic threatens to tip the country into a once in-a-century recession but it’s clear that financial stress has already started accelerating dramatically in some areas.

“The jump in JSA claims since before the UK shut down is staggering, but so is the variation in how different places are faring.

“The entertainment, leisure and retail industries have been hardest hit by the quaranting measures, with many businesses rendered virtually inactive over the past couple of months.

“The impact of this is going to fall disproportionately on those on low incomes and, with these types of businesses beginning to reopen as we head into July, the next month is going to be hotly watched for signs of how well households and the wide economy are going to be able to bounce back.”

Anti-poverty charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said the government should focus on creating jobs in places that have seen the biggest increases in unemployment.

Dave Innes, head of economics at the foundation, said: “Alongside this, the government should also boost benefits so that people are not pulled into poverty if they lose their jobs.”