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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.

The announcement of the Restart scheme, providing £2.9 billion over three years to help the long-term unemployed find work, with additional further funding for jobcentres, is very welcome. We need to see more detail on how the Restart scheme will be providing support. Our research shows that even at the height of lockdown when conditionality requirements were suspended, claimants were motivated to find work and the majority were carrying out work search activities. It is not motivation to work search that claimants need help with, but support and guidance on how to successfully navigate opportunities in the labour market (with the government also ensuring that opportunities exist).

Those who are long-term unemployed are not the only group that need specific targeting. Concerns remain about the adequacy of support given to young people, who we know are more likely to be new benefit claimants during the pandemic. We remain wary that the youth employment initiative Kickstart might not be doing enough to support and encourage employers. We also know that specific sectors have been particularly hard hit during the crisis, and therefore policy responses must incorporate details that are sector-specific.

Finally, the Chancellor did not change his intention to remove the £20 Universal Credit uplift in April 2021. In our next report out soon, we will be examining the experiences of benefit recipients during the pandemic, including in terms of living standards. Challenges for keeping financially afloat, and the stresses and strains this places on households as they have to strategize to get by, are notable in our research. The benefits system creates a tougher task for itself in supporting people to enter and progress in the labour market if it is not also providing adequate financial support.

About the project: Welfare at a (Social) Distance is a major national research project investigating the benefits system during the COVID-19 pandemic, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to COVID-19. More information on the project

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