Unemployment in Chipping Barnet has surged by more than 50 per cent over the past year, as more people fall foul of budget cuts and redundancies.

Residents in the constituency have been hit harder by the recent economic crisis than other parts of the borough, according to the latest unemployment figures.

Though Chipping Barnet still has the lowest number of people out of work of the borough’s three parliamentary consituencies, claims for Jobseeker’s Allowance jumped by 51 per cent between January 2008 and January 2009, from 1,035 to 1,562.

The number of claimants in the borough as a whole increased by 40 per cent, from 3,745 to 5,248, according to the Office of National Statistics, while in the whole of London, the figure increased by 29 per cent.

Theresa Villiers, Conservative MP for Chipping Barnet, said: “This is very grim news for my constituents. These latest figures reveal the harsh truth of just how devastating the recession is for thousands of families across Barnet.

“It confirms what we already knew: that Barnet is not immune to the economic crisis.

“It is certainly worrying that my constituents have been affected the most, and we will have to investigate why this is the case. It shows that the recession will hit people whatever their income or background.”

Across the UK, claimant numbers have risen by 54.4 per cent, putting the unemployment rate at 3.4 per cent as the recession takes hold in the country.

In the borough the unemployment rate has climbed to 2.5 per cent from 1.8 per cent last year. Nearly a quarter of claimants are aged between 18 and 24, and 76 per cent signed on in the past six months.

Conservative Underhill councillor Daniel Webb vowed to help residents in his ward, which now has the highest unemployment rate in the Chipping Barnet constituency, at three per cent.

He said: “There is little the council can do to fix the national economy, but it is important that the local economy is supported as much as possible so that businesses remain sustainable and those out of work can find jobs.”

A council spokesman said action was being taken across the borough to help residents survive the tough economic times, includ- ing tackling the causes of unemployment.

A skills development programme officer would be employed to advise people how to find employment and training, he added, and £50,000 of Government money would be directed towards services aimed at encouraging out-of-work benefit claimants back into employment or training.

Council leader Mike Freer blamed the Labour Government for the crisis and said the council would do “everything it can” to help residents, including paying local suppliers within ten days rather than 30.

He said: “Gordon Brown’s bust is hitting our borough. But we are determined to keep council tax down and provide support to our local economy during this hardship.”

But Barnet Labour group leader Alison Moore criticised the Tories for doing “too little too late”.

She said: “In September last year, the Conservatives promised to come up with a comprehensive strategy to deal with the impact that the global financial crisis is having on Barnet residents, but to date they’ve not come forward with any such strategy.

“To ensure that Barnet’s hard-pressed residents are able to weather the recession, they need to do more than offer a one-off reduction in parking charges for a couple of weeks that will have to be partly repaid during the next year.

“They should look at a wider range of ways to help stimulate the local economy, ways to help safeguard housing and of offering financial assistance.”