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

A research team including Dr Ben Baumberg Geiger of the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research has been awarded £618K by the Economic and Social Research Council to investigate how the benefits system is responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

The grant, announced as figures reveal that the number of people claiming unemployment benefit soared to 2.1 million in April, is 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 Kent, the University of Leeds, Leeds University Business School and London School of Economics, will include an online survey of 8,000 new and existing benefit claimants. The research will investigate whether people receiving benefits such as Universal Credit are getting the income and employment support they need as the crisis unfolds.

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 Thanet, Leeds, Newham and Salford. Researchers will gather 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 team 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.

Dr Baumberg Geiger 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. 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.’