Around 950,000 people in the UK have applied for universal credit in the two weeks since Boris Johnson asked people to stay home to limit the spread of coronavirus.
There are normally around 100,000 applicants for the benefit per two-week period. The government has moved 10,000 staff to process the claims and is recruiting more.
“With such a huge increase in claims there are pressures on our services, but the system is standing up well to these and our dedicated staff are working flat out to get people the support they need,” said a spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions.
The number of universal credit claimants is not a proxy for unemployment figures, as it is possible to apply while still in work, but a YouGov survey on 24 March found that one in 20 people in Britain had already lost their job due to coronavirus measures.
As businesses, shops, restaurants and bars are closed, the government has offered to pay 80% of employees’ wages if their company keeps them on, but there is no incentive for an employer to apply for this.
Britain’s 5 million self-employed people will not hear about whether they are eligible for similar aid until June. Universal credit has a waiting period of at least five weeks.