School of Health and Society 21.05.20

Funding awarded to investigate benefits support during the COVID-19 crisis

Researchers have been awarded £618,000 funding to investigate how the benefits system is responding to the coronavirus pandemic, and whether people receiving benefits such as Universal Credit are getting the income and employment support they need as the crisis unfolds. 

Professor Lisa Scullion

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 as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to Covid-19.

The project, which will be led by the Sustainable Housing & Urban Studies Unit (SHUSU) at the University of Salford, working in collaboration with the University of Leeds, Leeds University Business School, LSE and the University of Kent, will include an online survey of 8,000 new and existing benefit claimants. More in-depth interviews will be carried out 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.

Professor Lisa Scullion (pictured), Co-Director of SHUSU at the University of Salford, said: “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.” 

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 be working with a number of 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. 

Lisa explains: “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.”

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