Nearly 4,000 people in the Wycombe constituency were claiming out-of-work related benefits in July – the highest number in the whole county, sparking major concerns.

It comes amid shocking research in July that found nearly 30 per cent of people in the constituency are living in food poverty.

In March 2020, there were 1,840 people claiming out-of-work related benefits in Wycombe – but that number had more than doubled by July 2021, when the figure was 3,990.

In total in July this year, 12,805 residents were claiming benefits – 7,265 more in the county than at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020.

The claimant count rate is the highest – and above the national average – in Wycombe, which prompted the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to approach Buckinghamshire Council to say they needed “more of a presence” in the town centre.

That’s why they have taken on a second Job Centre site – the old Argos store in High Wycombe High Street – for five years in a bid to deal with the increase.

When asked by Cllr Melanie Smith why Wycombe has seen such a worrying increase, Shabnam Ali, who is the head of local economic growth at Buckinghamshire Council, said: “I think it’s related to some of the demographics in the town centre.

“There are people in High Wycombe that have a lower level of skills for example, or they have been employed in sectors that have been most impacted by Covid.

“One I can give you an example of is the aviation sector. Many residents in High Wycombe were employed either directly by Heathrow Airport or in its supply chain and because that was majorly affected by Covid, there was lots of challenges for employment for people in those sectors.

“We’re working very closely with DWP and JobCentre Plus and they are taking an even more stronger presence in the High Street so they can be more present and help and respond to individuals that are claiming benefits or at threat of redundancy.”

According to research put together by Buckinghamshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), an estimated 2,100 Bucks residents work on site at Heathrow, with many more in supply chain firms.

Around 18,000 people work in Buckinghamshire’s 2,000 hospitality and tourism businesses.

On May 31, 2021, a total of 20,600 employees living in Bucks were furloughed, with the highest number of those come from the hospitality sector.

How many people are claiming benefits in Bucks? The statistics according to the DWP

In July 2021, 12,805 Buckinghamshire residents were claiming ‘out-of-work’ related benefits. In June 2021, that number was 13,005.

There were 7,265 more claimants in Buckinghamshire in July 2021 than at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020 (5,540).

Within Buckinghamshire, the claimant count rate is highest (and above the national average) in the Wycombe parliamentary constituency area (5.7 per cent).

In Aylesbury constituency, the claimant count was 1,420 in March 2020 and 2,975 in July 2021.

In Beaconsfield, the number was 820 in March 2020 and 2,200 in July 2021.

In Buckingham it was 710 in March 2020 and 1,820 in July this year.

In Chesham and Amersham the claimant count went from 750 in March 2020 to 1,820 in July 2021.

In Wycombe, the claims went from 1,840 in March 2020 to 3,990 in July.

What is Buckinghamshire Council doing to tackle the problem?

They are taking on a “partnership approach” with the DWP which outlines “priority groups” so that support can be directed to them to get them back into work “as quickly as possible”.

The priority areas fall into four categories:

• Those who are on the cusp of losing their job or who have just lost it, which could cause them to “spiral into a whole raft of social or physical challenges including mental health”

• Providing training for people to reskill quickly into an employment sector that has job growth. This could be someone being made redundant from retail but retraining to go into health and social care or construction

• Helping those with aspirations to set up their own business by guiding them and offering advice

• Schemes to help young people gain experience, grow confidence and get back into employment

Ms Ali added: “We’re working with the LEP and Buckinghamshire Business First to help us respond to some of the unemployment levels we’re seeing across Bucks. We have the skills hub and the growth hub, which support individuals and businesses to develop their skills.”

How the council and the DWP will be developing their projects further is expected to be revealed in due course, but in the meantime, anyone who needs support can go to, or for advice and assistance. You can call High Wycombe Jobcentre plus on 0800 169 0190.