Number of Lewisham benefit claimants more than doubles during pandemic

By Grainne Cuffe, Local Democracy Reporter

The number of people claiming benefits in Lewisham has more than doubled since the national lockdown came into force.

In March the figure was 8,410, compared to 19,955 in August.

Lewisham’s cabinet member for culture, jobs and skills, Cllr Joe Dromey, raised the issue as he presented a report on the council’s apprenticeship programme to mayor and cabinet on Wednesday.

Part of the council’s recovery plan in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the half a million pound scheme will offer roles with the council, local businesses, and in public sector organisations such as Lewisham Homes and Lewisham Hospital.

One of the apprenticeships will involve working with mayor Damien Egan.

The council also launched a campaign to recruit 100 apprentices in 100 days to boost the programme – it emerged at the meeting that it is on track for success as half the apprentices have been recruited halfway through the 100 days.

Cllr Dromey said: “The pandemic that we’ve seen emerge in recent months has triggered a labour market crisis and we’ve seen the impacts very significantly locally already.

“The claimant counts in Lewisham has already doubled since February and we’ve seen the fastest rises among young people in our community.”

He said that long-term unemployment can have “corrosive impacts” on health and mental health, “particularly for young people”.

“In terms of the 100 in 100 campaign, we’re about halfway there in terms of days and half way there in terms of numbers. We’re making really good progress,” Cllr Dromey said.

He urged local employers to take part in the programme as they could be eligible for a hiring incentive of up to £2,000 if they take on an apprentice before January.

“The council can cover the cost of apprenticeship training from our levy funds and we can also help with recruitment.

“It’s worthwhile for employers, we can make it easy for them, and it also makes a fantastic difference to people in our community,” he said.

On July 9 mayor and cabinet approved a report seeking £510,000 to pay for a training provider for three apprenticeship cohorts over 18 months – on Wednesday they approved a decision to award Whitehat the contract.

Lewisham residents aged 16 and over can apply to the apprenticeship scheme, while all successful applicants will be paid the London Living Wage.


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