WOKINGHAM saw stark increases in unemployment and food bank use during the coronavirus lockdown.

A new Wokingham Borough Council report states the number of out-of-work benefits claims made in Wokingham rose by 223 per cent between February and August.

By September, the number of claimants in Wokingham had reached 3,710 and 21,700 people had been furloughed.

Demand for the three foodbanks in Wokingham soared by 218 per cent between March and August, as they provided food parcels for 1,668 adults and 1,338 children.

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The council report states: “Levels of need for foodbanks are projected to rise throughout 2020, representing a 153 per cent increase on the previous year, with most vulnerable being the unemployed and self-employed workers.”

During that six-month period, the number of Wokingham children eligible for free school meals rose to 666.

That’s 479 per cent higher than the same period in last year, when only 115 kids were entitled to those meals.

Around 17 per cent of Wokingham children are believed to be living in poverty, even though it is one of the least deprived areas of the country.

The worrying report also says there has been a 33 per cent increase in Universal Credit applications in Wokingham and 224 households have fallen behind on their council tax payments since March.

The Conservative-run council says the collection of council tax debt “was paused during Covid-19” and it offered early support to the households that are “particularly vulnerable to financial difficulties”.

According to the report, the council needs to try and recover millions of pounds of council tax debt in this financial year but it is “very mindful of the financial hardship faced by many residents” and prepared to offer flexible repayment plans.

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The council is also working with the Citizens Advice Bureau and charities to support people who are struggling financially during the pandemic.

It has distributed £20 million of mandatory and discretionary business grants and £20 million of “other reliefs” to businesses and households across the borough, the report states.

The report adds: “Local data and insight suggests an emerging picture of increased demand for support with benefit claims, employment support and housing and as the impact of the pandemic on the job market and the economy continue and government support such as furlough is reduced, it appears likely that demand for support will continue to increase.”

The issues outlined in the report will be discussed at a council meeting on October 21.