A new research project into the benefits system during the COVID-19 pandemic shows a majority of workless new benefit claimants are already looking for work – but two-thirds want support in the coming weeks to help them do so.
The report is the first from the Welfare at a (Social) Distance project, a major national research project investigating the benefits system during COVID-19 and its aftermath. The project is led by the Sustainable Housing & Urban Studies Unit (SHUSU) at the University of Salford, working in collaboration with Kent, the University of Leeds, Leeds University Business School and the London School of Economics.
The research team including lead author of the report, Dr Ben Baumberg Geiger of Kent’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, drew data from a new nationally representative YouGov survey, carried out between 25 May and 3 June 2020, of just over 2,000 new Universal Credit (UC) and Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants.
Despite the huge drop in job vacancies and the fact that job-search requirements have been suspended, the majority of workless new UC claimants (54%) and workless new JSA claimants (81%) are job hunting – 59% of new UC/JSA claimants overall. However, people looking for work say that they need more help in their search, with two-thirds (67%) saying that they would like some employment support, e.g. suggestions of what jobs they could do, or help to improve their skills or to access training.
The survey also found that a majority of new UC claimants who had a job before the crisis still had their jobs at the point they were surveyed. 29% of claimants had lost their job, but over two-thirds (70%) were still employed. However, about half of those with a job were not currently working, and some of these do not expect to return to their old job.
The report’s authors estimate that 750,000 new UC/JSA claimants are currently unemployed, which is a big increase, but lower than the Office of National Statistics’ (ONS) estimate that 1.4 million more people are claiming unemployment related benefits.
The report also shows that many new UC claimants were self-employed before the crisis – 33% were self-employed, and over 50% of those in couples claimed partly because they or their partner were self-employed and could no longer get enough work. Among claimants who were self-employed in February, nearly half (45%) had already received a payment from the Government’s Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS).
Dr Baumberg Geiger said: ‘It is striking that so many claimants have been looking for work during lockdown, even though vacancies have dropped by an extraordinary amount, and even though they are not currently required to look for work. However, many of those looking for work say that they would like help over the coming weeks to find a job: the challenge is to find ways of providing this support quickly and safely to large numbers of people.’