Welfare at a (social) distance

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Welfare at a (Social) Distance: Accessing social security and employment support during the COVID-19 crisis and its aftermath

By Lisa Scullion, University of Salford; Daniel Edmiston, University of Leeds; and Kate Summers, London School of Economics.

The Sustainable Housing & Urban Studies Unit (SHUSU) at the University of Salford, working with the universities of Leeds, Kent and the London School of Economics, is leading a large-scale national research project to understand how the working-age benefits system responds to the coronavirus crisis. Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to COVID-19, this project will rapidly produce large-scale evidence to inform policymaking in the coming months.

As newsletter readers will know, the benefits system is crucial to supporting people during, and after, the COVID-19 crisis. With a growing number of new claimants, it faces two challenges. Firstly, to ensure people quickly get the money they need. And afterwards, that people are helped to quickly return to work or supported further if unable to work. This project will provide vital information on how we are meeting these challenges and where the system is struggling in order to help develop rapid solutions.

The project has three main components. We are conducting an online survey of 8,000 new and existing claimants, to provide a nationally representative picture of what is happening. Second, we are conducting four local area case studies in Leeds, Newham, Salford and Thanet, to identify how local support systems, including local authorities, third sector providers, and others, support claimants. Third, we are interviewing 80 claimants twice over the next year. These in-depth interviews will help us understand the details of claimants’ experiences.

This project is particularly important because of the ongoing and new challenges that the benefit system is facing. The coronavirus crisis has created a group of ‘new’ claimants, who might not have prior experience of the social security system: we need to understand how their experiences compare to those of existing claimants. Specifically, we need understand if support and income is reaching all claimants in a timely way, when the wave of new applications has put higher levels of strain on DWP processes. COVID-19 has also accelerated the shift to a digitalised benefits system – navigating this ‘virtual’ system often depends on in-person help for some claimants (from e.g. advice agencies) and the extent to which claimants can access support remotely is unknown. Later, claimants will need support to quickly return to work, while those who remain out of work will need ongoing
security.

Can you help us?

We are looking to speak to current benefit recipients from across England about their experiences. If you can help put us in touch with anyone currently in receipt of Universal Credit, JSA, ESA, or Tax Credits we would be grateful to hear from you. Interviews are treated confidentially and participants receive a voucher as a thank them for their time.

We would also like to hear from organisations in the Salford area who are currently supporting benefit claimants and are able to share their experiences of providing support during this time.

For further information about the project, or if you would like to be added to our project dissemination list to receive updates from the project, please contact:

Professor Lisa Scullion (University of Salford)
Dr Daniel Edmiston (University of Leeds)
Dr Kate Summers (London School of Economics)Welfare at a distance article logos for GM Poverty Action

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