Fears have been raised of a youth unemployment ticking timebomb in Swindon due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It comes after new figures show that the number of young people in claiming out of work benefits has significantly increased since lockdown began.

The data from the Office for National Statistics shows that the percentage of those aged between 18 and 24 claiming benefits in South Swindon rose from five per cent in March to 11 per cent in June, where 850 signed on in June.

It was a similar picture in North Swindon where the percentage rose from four per cent to ten per cent, with 790 claimants in June.

Operation manager Elizabeth Postgate for Inner Flame, a charity that helps unemployed young people in Swindon and Wiltshire, told the Adver: “We are not surprised by these figures.

“They may well actually be worse when you take into account the young people who are not claiming benefits.

“Working with young people we know that their employment status is often very fragile – including zero hours and short-term contracts.

“Also, they are more likely to work in the industries which have been hit hardest by the lockdown, such as retail, leisure and hospitality.”

Claimants of universal credit or jobseekers’ allowance aged between 18 and 24 doubled in the UK in the last three months – standing at more than 500,000.

Elizabeth added: “Each and every young person who comes through our doors has a huge amount to offer society. We see creative and passionate young people with a thirst for life who have side-lined and lost motivation.

“It doesn’t take much to inspire them to great things; a positive attitude, belief in what they are capable of, a little supervision and a bit of inspiration.”

She said businesses could help tackle unemployment by hiring more apprentices and trainees and replace interviews by a week of work experience.

“Youth employment helps to keep crime levels low and prepares the next generation for stepping up. They are, after all, our future,” Elizabeth said.

“The pandemic has seen people supporting others through extreme times.

“As a society we need to learn the lessons that we are collectively better off mentally, practically, and economically when we help others. There are more challenging times to come, so we need to invest in people now.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced a £2bn scheme to help young workers.

MP Robert Buckland said: “Since becoming MP for South Swindon in 2010, 10,070 people in the town have started an apprenticeship and pre-Covid, youth unemployment, which is traditionally the hardest area to tackle, was down by 61.3 per cent.

“We all knew when we went into lockdown, that there would be huge economic cost, but I am confident that we can rebuild our country through the Prime Minister’s New Deal for Britain.”

Mr Buckland added: “I will continue to work closely with companies here in the town, such as Zurich, which has recently shown its commitment to remain in the town by building new state of the art offices.

“I will be encouraging it and other companies to take advantage of the new incentives offered to employers who take on apprentices.”

“We have many bright young people in our town and along with Justin Tomlinson MP, I will continue to do all I can to support and encourage them to take advantage of the many opportunities that Swindon has to offer them.”