Oxford has seen one of the smallest rises in people claiming unemployment benefits in the UK, new figures reveal.

But with the number of claimants across the country rocketing by early April as the effects of the Covid-19 lockdown began to bite, the Labour Party and charities are urging reform to the system to help those without jobs.

Office for National Statistics data shows 3,265 people were claiming out-of-work benefits in Oxford as of April 9, compared to 2,115 a month earlier.

It means the share of the population signing on rose from 2per cent to 3per cent – among the smallest increases in the UK, where the claimant rate rose from 3.1percent to 5.1per cent.

Oxford's claimant rate was slightly lower than the 3.9per cent across the South East as a whole.

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The statistics capture the early weeks of restrictions after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the country into lockdown on March 23, meaning the numbers are likely to have risen since with most industries having to close their doors when social distancing measures were announced.

The ONS figures count those aged 16 to 64 who are on Jobseekers Allowance and some Universal Credit claimants, with numbers rounded to the nearest five.

Across the UK, the claimant count rocketed to 2.1 million on April 9 – a 66per cent rise from March, although the ONS put the increase at 69per cent if the figures were adjusted to take seasonal variations into account.

Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Reynolds said the rise shows the “severity of the crisis we are facing”.

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He added: “Unfortunately these claimants will now discover the UK has one of the weakest out-of-work safety nets in the developed world.

“We support the changes the Government has made so far during the outbreak, but they do not match the scale of the crisis.”

The party has called on the Government to make five immediate changes to the benefits system, which include ending the five-week wait for Universal Credit payments and scrapping a £16,000 limit on the amount of savings claimants can have.

The ONS figures show the increase in the share of the population seeking help varied significantly around the country.

In the Isles of Scilly, the figure shot up from 0.7per cent to 5.8per cent.

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At the other end of the spectrum, Cambridge, South Cambridgeshire and Elmbridge saw their claimant count rise by just 0.9 percentage points.

Sara Willcocks, from the anti-poverty charity Turn2us, said: "No matter where you live in the UK, you should be able to rely on our social security system, just as we do our NHS.

"So the Government must take this time to fix the problems with benefits, like the five-week wait for Universal Credit, and make them suitable for the 21st century."

Though there is a long wait, claimants can apply for a non-interest loan from the council which they can then pay back using their monthly Universal Credit payments.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “These are challenging times, but Universal Credit is providing a vital safety net to those affected by the pandemic and we’ve taken action by injecting over £6.5 billion to support people using the welfare system.”