Non-take-up of benefits at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic

The full report is available here, and Ben's blog at Inequalities is here (published April 20th 2021)

You can also read a summary infographic, a blog by the Health Foundation, and coverage in the Guardian, Independent and the Sun.

The data and replication file are available via the Open Science Foundation.

About this report

The situation of those who were eligible for Universal Credit (UC) but did not claim it has been given little attention. In this report, we present the findings of exploratory research into this group, funded by the Health Foundation.

We estimate there are around half a million people – our best estimate is 430,000-560,000 people – who were eligible for UC during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic but did not claim it.

 

This includes a quarter of a million (220,000) people who thought they were eligible for UC (mostly correctly) but didn’t want to claim it. One-third of those who didn’t want to claim said that this was because they did not need benefits. But more commonly, people hadn’t applied for UC because of the perceived hassle of applying (59%), or because of benefits stigma (27%).

We have also estimated survey respondents’ eligibility for UC – something that has never previously been done. Estimating eligibility for UC is complex and there are a number of caveats to the figure. Bearing this in mind, we estimate that 280,000-390,000 people wrongly thought they were ineligible for UC.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, income had fallen amongst a majority of both of these groups of people not taking-up UC. Nearly half reported severe financial strain. More than one-in-six had skipped a meal in the previous two weeks because they could not afford to eat (equivalent to 80,000 people) – compared to one-in-forty members of the general public excluding claimants.

We also estimated eligibility for new style Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA). Although subject to even greater uncertainty, we estimated that 80,000 people were probably eligible for new style JSA but did not claim it. There were also other indications that awareness of contributory benefits is lower than awareness of UC. 

In conclusion, we recommend that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) publishes its own ‘benefit take-up strategy’ for the UK. This could include at least four components:

  1. Publish take-up estimates for UC and new style JSA. 

  2. Ensure that people claim the right benefits as quickly as possible.

  3. Correct misperceptions about the benefits system.

  4. Attempt to address benefits stigma.

The full report is available here, and a summary infographic here (the data and replication file are available via the Open Science Foundation).

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