Blog posts

Spending review response

The Spending Review announcements included welcome support for those out of work, writes WASD project management team member Kate Summers.

But concerns and questions remain as to whether the Chancellor is adequately addressing the specific labour market challenges of this crisis. We at the Welfare at a (Social) Distance project, drawing on our large-scale ongoing research, highlight some of these key challenges below.


Project gives evidence to parliamentary committee

Dr Jo Ingold from our project management team gave evidence to the Commons Work & Pensions Committee on 4 November. The committee invited her to give oral evidence to its ongoing inquiry into the DWP’s preparation for changes in the world of work.

Among the issues Dr Ingold raised were:

  • Digital access: with libraries and other public places closed during the pandemic, some people struggle to get online. Others may have a smartphone but not enough data on it to complete job search activity.
  • The gig and platform economy: this fast growing sector poses challenges for the social security system.
  • The dwindling role of contributory benefits: some of those whose health has been affected during the pandemic could not get support.
  • Employability and skills: there is an urgent need to join up employability and skills programmes with the business sector. Labour market intelligence must be developed to support the economic recovery.

View Dr Ingold’s evidence on parliament tv and read her blog about it in FE News

More about the DWP’s inquiry

Blog posts

The fairness of furlough: perceptions of Universal Credit claimants

As the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme comes to an end, this blog considers ‘furlough’ from the perspective of benefit claimants, drawing on 75 interviews for the Welfare at a (Social) Distance project. The people interviewed were mostly on Universal Credit. This included people who were still attached to their jobs (including a number of furlough recipients), as well as people who were unemployed. It finds a range of attitudes towards the scheme: some felt positive about furlough, while for others it reinforced a sense of vulnerability, exclusion or unfairness.

Rapid findings

Unsuccessful benefit claims at the start of the the Covid-19 pandemic

Our new ‘Health Foundation-funded report, ‘At the edge of the safety net: Unsuccessful benefits claims at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic’ has been released today.

It looks at the 290,000 people who started making a claim for benefits, but who were unsuccessful – a group largely missed from previous research. It finds that many had seen sharp falls in income, were struggling financially, and had poor mental health. Some were even going hungry because they couldn’t afford food.

Unsuccessful claims were largely because people were not eligible for benefits (about 220,000 people). The numbers of people who had started making a claim but failed to complete it was relatively small (40,000) – likely to be testament to the changes that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) made near the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The full report is available here (and our press release is here).


Questions for Kickstart

The government recently launched the youth-targeted employment initiative “Kickstart” and released its initial guidance to prospective employers – so what exactly is it? After a brief reflection on how it compares to recent youth-targeted programmes in the UK, this blog goes on to raise some key questions. Should Kickstart focus on Universal Credit (UC) and ignore those on ‘New Style’ Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Jobseekers Allowance (JSA)? Will 25 hours a week at minimum wage be enough for claimants or does the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) need to encourage employers to do more? And will the Kickstart scheme rely upon further top-ups from UC to be viable?

Rapid findings

Who are the new COVID-19 cohort of benefit claimants?

Rapid Findings #2 (September 2020)

14th September 2020 – Full Report ‘Who are the new COVID-19 cohort of benefit claimants?‘ released here.


Since March 2020, we have witnessed the fastest increase in the number of people claiming working-age social security benefits in the UK since records began. The incorporation of a new group of benefit claimants into the social security system has presented its own procedural and administrative challenges for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Some commentators have lauded the government’s response to the crisis amidst a surge in new claims. Beyond the sheer volume of claimants, recent developments present a fresh set of priorities for those working in benefit, income and employment support. These priorities stem from the considerable challenges facing the UK labour market with sizeable portions of the economy having to adapt to a ‘new normal’ of altered hours and working practices alongside shifting demand and capacity. Additionally, these priorities stem from a large new group of claimants who face their own unique challenges in accessing adequate social assistance and appropriate employment support during the course of the pandemic.

At present, we currently know relatively little about who the new cohort of COVID-19 benefit claimants are. What differences currently distinguish new claimants from existing ones? What are the factors behind new claimants seeking social assistance? What will their financial and employment trajectories look like?

Rapid findings

Do people support benefits sanctions during the pandemic?

The reintroduction of conditionality for benefits claimants at the end of June prompted a flurry of concern. Partly about what this might mean for claimants who are affected by the pandemic, and partly because of longstanding concerns about the appropriateness and effectiveness of conditionality and sanctions (particularly for disabled people), which are likely to be made worse by the looming jobs crisis.

There’s lots that can be said about the benefits and drawbacks of conditionality and sanctions – indeed, many of us in the project have already written extensively about it over the past years – and we will be regularly returning to this over the 18 months of the project. In this blog post, though, we wanted to look at one specific aspect of this: people’s attitudes to benefit sanctions – both claimants themselves (particularly those who started claiming during the pandemic), and the wider public.

Rapid findings

New benefit claimants expect to return to their old jobs – but may be disappointed

There is a crucial question for those thinking about employment support for the large new wave of COVID-19 benefit claimants: are people expecting to go back to their previous line of work, or even their old job itself? Or are they expecting to have to do a completely different type of work?

Of course, things may turn out differently to claimants’ expectations; predicting the path of the next few months is a formidable challenge. But to be successful, those supporting claimants will need to respond to individuals’ differing circumstances, which will be more diverse than previous crises. They will need a nuanced understanding of customers’ starting points, including their skill level, employment-related and wider challenges – and also their hopes and expectations. So in this short blog post, we thought it would be useful to see what claimants were expecting.


First Rapid Findings released

Our first report from the project, ‘Claiming but Connected to Work’, is now available here.


Invitation to take part in a national research project

We are now recruiting research participants.

Please download the participant information sheet here or keep reading for more information on our new project: Accessing benefits and employment support during the COVID-19 crisis and its aftermath.