Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey told Sky News her department was preparing to support this level of unemployed, but said she “sincerely hoped” that we would not hit that number.
During a visit to promote the new £ 2bn Kickstarter scheme to encourage young benefit seekers to complete internships, Ms Coffey said her department had taken the Office of Budget Accountability forecast into account ( OBR) and was planning around this scenario.
“I think we’re in a similar number in terms of being ready to help people and trying to help them get back to work as quickly as possible,” Ms. Coffey said.
“We integrate people into the organization and into a COVID sure way to meet the challenge.
“I really hope we don’t hit that number, of course. But it is important that we are ready to help people. ”
The number of people with universal credit soared during the first wave of the pandemic with 2.7 million people in August, an increase of 120.8% since March.
The OBR has forecast that unemployment could reach 13.2% – or four million people – by next year.
Ms Coffey said her department was ready for an increase in the number of applicants and “was evolving our plans with how the economy worked.”
The department will have hired 25,000 new employees by March 2021 – a third increase – as it prepares to deal with rising unemployment, while doubling the number of work coaches to help people retrain and find work in sectors not crushed by COVID -19.
“I think it’s fair to say that doubling the number of work coaches is a real investment in making sure we’re helping people, many of whom will never have had benefits and may not have. been unemployed for a very long time, ”she added.
“It could put their chosen career on hold, just for a few years while their industry recovers, but help them enter some of the growing industries – construction, other infrastructure, health and social services. ”
Ministers brace for higher unemployment as the Chancellor ends the £ 39bn leave program and replaces it with a German-style wage subsidy plan.
Under the new employment support program, the taxpayer will no longer pay part of the wages of around 3 million employees who could not work.
Instead, the Treasury will only subsidize people who work at least a third of their usual hours – giving employers just a few weeks to decide which jobs at their companies remain viable, with employees unable to work any of their regular hours. not eligible for government support.
The Chancellor warned last week that Britain was facing a winter of rising unemployment and said his new multibillion-pound spending program – the Winter Economic Plan – would not be enough to prevent the business bankruptcy and loss of jobs.
Ms Coffey said: “We never promised that we could save every job or every business.
“We will do our best to try to help businesses continue. But we’ve reached a point where we absolutely recognize that we can’t pretend, we’ve never pretended, we can save every job. ”
Young people are probably the hardest hit by threatened job losses in the hospitality and retail industries, which is part of the reason the government introduced the Kickstart program for 16-24 year olds. .
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The program, modeled on a program that worked after the 2008 recession, is a close-up of the government’s “Jobs Plan”, launched this summer.
Under this scheme, the government bears the costs of employers – national insurance, pensions and salaries – in exchange for companies offering six-month internships to young people.