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The Research

Accessing social security and employment support during the COVID-19 crisis and its aftermath

Welfare at a (Social) Distance is a major national research project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to COVID-19.

The benefits system is crucial to supporting people during, and after, the COVID-19 crisis. With a growing number of new claimants, it faces two challenges.


Firstly, we need to ensure people quickly get the money they need. Secondly, we also need to make sure that people are helped to quickly return to work or supported further if unable to work.

In this project, we provide vital information on how we are meeting these challenges and, where the system is struggling.

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Surveying claimants

We are conducting an online survey of 7,000 new and existing benefit claimants at pivotal moments during the pandemic. Across three waves of data collection, we are exploring claimant experiences, attitudes and outcomes to consider how the benefits system can best support those worst affected by COVID-19.

Researching eco-systems of support

We will speak to people who provide support to claimants. In each of our case study areas (Leeds, Newham, Salford and Thanet) we will conduct 8-12 interviews with people providing this support (e.g. local authorities, the third sector, employment support providers and others).

Interviewing claimants

We are conducting qualitative longitudinal research with 80 claimants, interviewing them twice during the pandemic. The first wave of fieldwork began in June 2020 and we are returning to claimants in 2021. We are capturing a diversity of experiences and circumstances to examine how the benefits system affects the trajectories of claimants when it comes to work, household finances and well-being.

Key themes

Throughout the project we will be exploring key themes such as:

  • Poverty

  • Food insecurity

  • Household uncertainty

  • Money

  • Benefits

  • Work

  • Conditionality

  • Children & families

  • Community

  • Charities

  • Public services

  • Organisations & networks

  • Welfare advice

  • Welfare attitudes

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Find out more

For more information on the project  sign up to the mailing list.

or follow us at @DistantWelfare.

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