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Paul on politics: Tunbridge Wells sees huge rise in Universal Credit claimants, report reveals Covid failings and Rishi Sunak says there will be a 'good amount' of toys this Christmas


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If you were asked to identify the part of Kent that had, as a consequence of Covid-19, seen the greatest uptake in Universal Credit claims, what would your answer be?

The chances are that you would identify somewhere in east Kent, possibly Thanet. And you would be right.

The biggest rate of increase in the take up of Universal Credit was in Tunbridge Wells. Stock image
The biggest rate of increase in the take up of Universal Credit was in Tunbridge Wells. Stock image

Over the period of the lockdowns, it had the highest number of claimants of any part of the county.

The figures show 18,520 claiming the benefit in July 2021 compared to 6,994 in March 2020.

So, there is no question that in numbers, Thanet fared badly.

However, if you look at the data in another way, one part of Kent topped the table: Tunbridge Wells.

Why? In percentage terms, it recorded the highest increase of all.

"I hope there will be a vigorous bounce back in terms of jobs in Tunbridge Wells, which are obviously important to the people who need them.”

Over the same period, claims for Universal Credit soared by 146%. In Thanet, where before the pandemic it already had a significant number claiming UC, there was a change of 61%.

This contrast flips on its head the conventional view of Kent, that when it comes to the county’s economic performance, there is a clear east-west divide.

Of course, on most other measures of prosperity and economic buoyancy and social deprivation, Tunbridge Wells is by some stretch far better-off than Thanet.

Greg Clark, MP for Tunbridge Wells, said the high increase in the number of claimants was partly a reflection of the local economy and high proportion of those businesses in the hospitality sector and retail.

“Tunbridge Wells has had high levels of employment but quite a lot of employment in the town is in retail and hospitality," he said.

Greg Clark hopes there will be a vigorous bounce back in terms of jobs in Tunbridge Wells. Picture: Parliamentlive.tv
Greg Clark hopes there will be a vigorous bounce back in terms of jobs in Tunbridge Wells. Picture: Parliamentlive.tv

"A lot of people were on furlough and didn’t keep their jobs because premises closed down. So, we’ve been looking to a revival of the economy. Now as we go from autumn to Christmas, you can see that happening.

"A lot of businesses that closed their doors are now opening up. A lot of cafes and restaurants that have been boarded up now have new people coming in.

"I hope there will be a vigorous bounce back in terms of jobs in Tunbridge Wells, which are obviously important to the people who need them.”

Meanwhile, Thanet Labour county councillor Karen Constantine said the data showed nowhere was immune when it came to the impact of the pandemic.

“It’s a great shame that somewhere like Tunbridge Wells is seeing such a dramatic increase in the number of people now claiming Universal Credit," she said.

Cllr Karen Constantine described the removal of the £20 uplift in Universal Credit as a 'swingeing cut'
Cllr Karen Constantine described the removal of the £20 uplift in Universal Credit as a 'swingeing cut'

"It’s particularly concerning at this time with energy and food costs rising and the government now cutting the £20 uplift per week.

"Regardless of where you live this swingeing cut will make a difference to how you can manage on Universal Credit rates.”

There are signs that the impact of the pandemic is beginning to wane, with the most recent unemployment figures offering some grounds for cautious optimism.

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics revealed the total number of people claiming Universal Credit across Kent and Medway during September fell by 1,515 – the equivalent of almost 2.8%.

In Thanet, the number of claimants fell by 170 to 6,375, while in Tunbridge Wells, the figure fell by 70 to 2,230.

A report has outlined the major failings in the handling of the coronavirus pandemic in the UK
A report has outlined the major failings in the handling of the coronavirus pandemic in the UK

Report sets out stark reality

A long-awaited report into the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis predictably concluded that some things were done well and some were done poorly.

The former Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt described it as a report of two halves, a not altogether appropriate allusion to a football match.

Inevitably, there was a focus on the number of deaths that could have been avoided had a national lockdown been implemented just one week earlier.

And the failure to carry out checks on patients discharged from hospitals to residential care to see if they had the virus led to as many as 25,000 deaths.

In relation to the second lockdown, MPs note that “whilst it is clear the first lockdown was called too late, it is not however possible to make such a clear cut judgement about the second lockdown from October 31.”

One reason was that at the time, it was not known how transmissional the second so-called Kent variant was.

Scientists were struggling to account for why north Kent and neighbouring areas were experiencing “unaccountably high and persistent levels of Covid infections during the late autumn”.

Should Boris Johnson have jetted off on holiday to a luxury villa?
Should Boris Johnson have jetted off on holiday to a luxury villa?

Time for a break?

Should the Prime Minister have jetted off to Spain for a holiday in a villa that costs a reported £25,000 a week to rent?

Probably not. It’s not that politicians don’t deserve a break. But when lots of families would like to be booking their own half-term break but remain unsure about quarantine guidance, the images of him relaxing in the sun do not play well.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak says there will be a 'good amount' of toys available this Christmas
Chancellor Rishi Sunak says there will be a 'good amount' of toys available this Christmas

A 'good amount' of toys

The Chancellor Rishi Sunak has introduced an interesting way to answer questions about whether the pressures on supply chains will mean there will be fewer options when it comes to Christmas.

He says there will be a “good amount” of toys available. As opposed to an average amount or a bad amount? Who knows...?

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