Huge rise in people on Universal Credit across Devon

Figures have shown that the number of people in Devon claiming Universal Credit almost doubled since the start of the coronavirus lockdown.

Colleen Smith 

The figure rose by 95 per cent from 48,190 claimants in March to 93,917 in October. The latest provisional figures from the Department of Work and Pensions have revealed the devastating impact of the pandemic on incomes in the county.

It means one in eight people of working age – from 16 to 64 – are now on Universal Credit. The figure ranges from 10% in places like Exeter and West Devon, to 18% in Torbay.

Sara Willcocks, head of external affairs at Turn2us, said: “These new Universal Credit figures clearly show the pandemic’s profound and devastating impact on people’s income, employment and how close to the cliff edge many of us are – even prior to the first lockdown.

“Recent government schemes have protected some people from the economic consequences of the pandemic, yet there’s more that needs to be done.

“A Universal Credit system that is fit for purpose would do much to help people recover and to loosen poverty’s grip.

“If this government truly wants to stop people from being pulled into homelessness, hunger and debt, we urge them to increase to the child element of Universal Credit, maintain the increase to Local Housing Allowance rates and urgently review policies like the Benefit Cap and Two-child Limit.”

Nationally, there were 5.7 million people across Great Britain claiming Universal Credit as of October. That was nearly double the 3.0 million claimants in March.

Area% on UCJanuaryOctober
North Devon14%3,4757,889
Mid Devon12%2,2635,250
South Hams11%2,1185,296
East Devon11%3,5398,528
West Devon10%1,3613,276

A government spokesperson said: “We are wholly committed to supporting the lowest paid families and our policies, in particular those related to the pandemic, are under constant review.”
They added that they have recently confirmed the £20 UC uplift will remain in place until March 2021, and that they have already taken steps to help ease the burden of UC debt repayments, including reducing the maximum deduction from 40% to 30% of a claimant’s standard allowance.
From October 2021 they will reduce this further to 25%, and will double the time available to repay an advance to 24 months.

The table above shows that while Torbay has the highest percentage of people of working age claiming Universal Credit – other areas are seeing a fast rise, with figures more than doubling this year in many other parts of the county.

Hidden Devon

Devon Live has launched Hidden Devon, a series of campaigns highlighting issues that lie beneath the surface of our county.

The first concerns the issue of homelessness in the county’s cities, towns and villages – exacerbated by the grim impact of the global pandemic.

Not only do scores of people sleep rough on streets, in parks and even on farmland, there are those labelled ‘of no fixed abode’ for other reasons. They may have fled to a refuge, they may have been temporarily housed in a bed and breakfast or they may simply be living in one of region’s dedicated homeless hostels.

How to give

A big part of our campaign is recognising the institutions across the region that are desperately trying to help those in need. In many instances, they are staffed with volunteers giving up their own free time.

You can donate to various charities including PATH Torbay via this link, the Julian House Christmas Appeal covering Exeter and other parts of Devon via this link, or St Petrocks in Exeter via this link.

Are you a charity that would benefit from our fundraising? Contact us at

Find more Hidden Devon stories here