PUBLISHED: 09:20 12 December 2018
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Today, Universal Credit will be introduced in the few last remaining isolated pockets of the country where it has yet to be introduced – including two towns in Suffolk.
Newmarket and Mildenhall go live today, as well as Fakenham and North Walsham in Norfolk.
The rollout of universal credit has been controversial, and has been blamed by The Trussell Trust, a nationwide network of foodbanks, for a 39% increase in people using foodbanks in Suffolk between April and September this year compared to the same period last year.
But Stephen Lankester, the district operations manager for East Anglia at Jobcentre Plus, says he is pleased with the way the roll out has progressed: “It’s been successful in East Anglia. “We are seeing that because of universal credit, much less time has to be spent on admin. You are assessed for a six month period, and if you lose your job again in that time, just a very quick review is needed. You don’t need to ‘sign on’ every two weeks, but the support is still there – digital interventions are offered. So there are a lot of positives.”
Mr Lankester explained how lessons were learnt early on from when the first regional towns switched to universal credit in 2016, which were Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft.
“With any benefit, there’s always the odd glitch when it’s introduced,” he said. “But we have learnt from those as they have arisen.”
Figures out today reveal that the UK’s employment level is at an all-time high, with unemployment at 4.1%, and real wages are up for the ninth month in a row, with regular pay up 3.3% on the year – its fastest growth in almost a decade. In Ipswich, it’s a similar picture, with 2.8% of the adult population (2,435 people) registered as being actively looking for work.
The youth unemployment rate has almost halved nationally since 2010, and in Ipswich, 3.8% of 18 to 24 year olds (450 people) are claiming universal credit or jobseekers allowance.
Nationally, one of the biggest success stories has been the hospitality sector, which has added 22,000 more jobs to the economy since 2010. That’s reflected in Suffolk, with Travelodge looking to recruit up to 40 staff for its new hotel in Bury St Edmunds, and Penta in Ipswich advertising for 25 vacancies.
The only company that has announced to Jobcentre Plus that it is making redundancies in Suffolk this month is Asda, as the supermarket’s store in Newmarket closed earlier this month. Not all the 39 members of staff lost their jobs, as some were offered roles at other regional branches.