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Benefit claimant change during the COVID-19 pandemic

Pandemic Claimant Count Change: Baseline and Increase Levels (2020-21)

Pandemic Claimant Count Change: Percentages (2020-21)

Key findings

  • Every area has seen an increase in claims
  • Average threefold increase
  • Significant increase in areas with historically high levels of employment (shown in orange)
  • Areas with higher numbers of food service, transportation and hospitality workers hit hard (east Newham, north Brent, south Waltham Forest and south Hillingdon)

Every area has seen an increase in the claimant count, with the average being almost a tripling across the 14 month period. The size of the increase, however, is uneven. While some areas have historically had high unemployment levels, other areas with traditionally high levels of employment have seen substantial increases, well over and above the London average, while others have been less impacted.

The first map above shows the size of the increase in each of London's ~4800 small statistical areas (LSOAs) and whether the increase has come from a low or high base level. LSOA areas have approximately the same populations as at 2011, although there are spatial variations both in the size of the active workforce and also population changes in the last 10 years. Blue and green colours are areas where there were less than 50 claimants in February 2020, while orange/red colours show areas where the numbers were greater than this at the start of the pandemic. Blue/orange areas have seen an increase of less than 80 claimants since this time, while Green/red ones show larger increases.

This means that areas which have not traditionally had high levels of unemployment, but now do, are shown in orange. These areas are abundant in certain parts of London - east Newham, north Brent, south Waltham Forest and south Hillingdon (around Heathrow Airport, a major employer which has been part closed for the last year). These are regions with higher numbers of food service, transportation and hospitality workers, all sectors which have been significantly affected by lockdowns and reduced commercial activity. By contrast, New Addington in south-east Croydon, south Merton, and the fringes of the city, were areas which have historically had high unemployment levels, and while claimant counts have increased here too, the relative increase is much lower.

The second map shows the simple % change of claimant counts between February 2020 and April 2021, not accounting for the population sizes or actual count of claimants. Here, the newly mass-unemployed areas highlighted above again stand out, along with a ring around Hyde Park in central London - a very wealthy area which had almost full employment before - so even a small increase in claimant counts shows up as red. The same is true in the City of London. Harrow, a borough of traditionally high employment, also shows with high results here, indicating a substantial increase in the rate of claimants.

The data is published by NOMIS on behalf of the ONS, on a monthly basis, and can be accessed on the NOMIS website.