Expert comment: Does the Budget do enough to support benefit claimants?
As the chancellor announces a six-month extension to the £20 a week universal credit uplift in today’s Budget, will the additional support be enough to help those having to rely on benefits during (and beyond) the Covid-19 pandemic?
Professor Lisa Scullion (pictured), Co-Director of the Sustainable Housing & Urban Studies Unit (SHUSU) at the University of Salford, leads the Welfare at a (Social) Distance project; a major national research project investigating the benefits system during Covid-19 and its aftermath.
Lisa said: “The last year has challenged the UK social security system like no other. The DWP moved swiftly to process an unprecedented number of new benefit applications and cope with soaring demand.
“However, our research shows that many benefit claimants are struggling with a considerable gap between their basic cost of living and the amount of benefit they receive. Almost 60% of new benefit claimants and 43% of existing claimants (i.e. who had been claiming since before the pandemic) have experienced a drop in their income which they are not able to manage by simply reducing their spending. This means that around half of claimants are experiencing some form of severe financial strain – findings showed that one in six new claimants and one in five existing claimants had skipped a meal in the previous two weeks because they could not afford food.
“We welcome the six-month extension to the universal credit uplift. But it is clear that for many people, this is just not going to be enough. And what about benefit claimants who didn't receive the increase, such as those on “legacy” benefits (e.g. Jobseekers' Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance)? In our research they were most likely to have experienced some of the more severe financial strains. Keeping the £20 uplift as a permanent measure and extending it to all benefit claimants is vital. But without addressing fundamental issues about payment levels, the system will continue to leave people struggling.”
The Welfare at a (Social) Distance project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to Covid-19. Over the course of the project, researchers will be publishing regular reports, blogs, and briefings about different aspects of the benefits system.
The project is led by the Sustainable Housing & Urban Studies Unit (SHUSU) at the University of Salford, working in collaboration with the University of Kent, the University of Leeds, the LSE and Deakin University, Australia. It represents the largest project in the UK focusing on the benefits system during Covid-19 and is providing rapid data to the DWP and other key organisations to support the response to Covid-19.
For more information on the project, to sign up for updates, or to share your ideas or personal experiences please visit https://www.distantwelfare.co.uk/
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