Funding award to investigate benefits support in Covid-19 crisis

Researchers have been awarded funding of £618,000 to investigate how the benefits system is responding to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The award will investigate whether people receiving benefits such as Universal Credit are getting the income and employment support they need.

The grant, announced as figures show that the number of people claiming unemployment benefit soared to 2.1 million in April, is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) rapid response to Covid-19.

The project will be led by the University of Salford, working in collaboration with the University of Leeds, LSE and the University of Kent, and will include an online survey of 8,000 new and existing benefit claimants.

In-depth interviews will also be conducted with around 80 people who will share their experiences over time, as well as case studies looking at support providers in Leeds, Newham, Salford and Thanet.

Dr Jo Ingold, Associate Professor of Human Resource Management and Public Policy at Leeds University Business School commented:

We are thrilled to have been awarded this grant to obtain valuable insights into issues claimants face in the Covid-19 context. It is vital that we better understand the challenges faced, as well as the employment support needs of people post-Covid-19.  We look forward to working with our key partners both nationally and in the Leeds city region to provide rapid evidence to inform policy and practice.

Professor Lisa Scullion of the University of Salford, commented: “The benefits system has been a key part of the coronavirus response, but it is under extraordinary pressure with around two million new claims since the start of the pandemic.

“This project will provide rapid large-scale evidence for policy makers on how well we are meeting these challenges. It is vital that we understand how people are managing to navigate the benefits system, particularly as face-to-face support has been suspended. We also need to ensure that appropriate support is in place to help people to return to work when they are able to.

Researchers will seek to provide data on whether claimants are receiving the income they need, when they need it, and how support has been impacted by the need for social distancing.

The project will include key stakeholders including the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA), the Resolution Foundation, Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and various local authorities to identify how local and national stakeholders can best respond to the challenges that Covid-19 presents both for the social security system and those seeking access to benefits and employment support.