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Bright Blue, the independent think tank for liberal conservatism, has today published new analysis, entitled Sustained pressure? The analysis reveals the extent to which benefit claimants, both those on Universal Credit (UC) and those on legacy benefits, experienced challenges to their financial, social, and mental wellbeing during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The original analysis investigates newly published data from the 2019-20 UK Household Longitudinal Study and provides a snapshot of the financial, mental, and social wellbeing of different groups of benefit claimants between January 2019 and December 2020, just before and during the first nine months of the pandemic.

It compares the experiences of six distinct population groups: UC claimants, Working Tax Credit (WTC) claimants, Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants, Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claimants, Income Support (IS) claimants, and the rest of the population. 

The main findings from this analysis are:

  • A significant minority of benefit claimants reported not being up to date with housing and Council Tax payments in 2019-20. UC claimants were  the most likely group to report struggling with housing (29%) and Council Tax (29%) payments. Claimants of legacy benefits, such as WTC, JSA, ESA and IS, were  less likely than UC claimants to report not being up to date with housing (10% to 17%) and Council Tax (14% to 17%) payments, but still notably more likely than the rest of the population (6% and 5% respectively).
  • A significant minority of benefit claimants reported not being up to date with at least some household bills, and reported not being able to keep their home warm during winter in 2019-20. UC claimants were  the most likely claimant group to report struggling with household bills (31%), while ESA claimants, who are disabled, were in fact the most likely to report struggling to keep their home warm during winter (19%). Claimants of legacy benefits were  less likely than UC claimants to report not being up to date with some household bills (13% to 20%). In comparison, the rest of the population were much less likely to report not being up to date with some household bills (4%) or not being able to keep their home warm during winter (3%) in 2019-20.
  • Benefits claimants were  more likely to report poor mental wellbeing in 2019-20 than the rest of the population. All benefit groups were  more likely to report indicators of poor mental wellbeing, including those claiming WTC and JSA, in comparison to the rest of the population. ESA claimants were the most likely to report rarely having a lot of energy (67%) or feeling calm and peaceful (49%) or frequently feeling downhearted and depressed (37%) in the past four weeks. Only 21% of the rest of the population reported rarely having a lot of energy, 17% that they rarely feel calm and peaceful, and only 9% that they felt downhearted and depressed most of the time.
  • Benefit claimants were  generally more likely than the rest of the population to report that they often feel lonely in 2019-20. 32% of ESA claimants, 28% of IS claimants, 19% of JSA claimants, 18% of UC claimants, and 13% of WTC claimants report often feeling lonely, in comparison to just 8% of the rest of the population.
  • Benefit claimants were  generally more likely than the rest of the population to report that they often felt isolated in 2019-20. 31% of ESA claimants, 26% of IS claimants, 21% of JSA claimants, 18% of UC claimants and 11% of WTC claimants often felt isolated, in comparison to just 8% of the rest of the population.
  • Benefit claimants were  generally more likely than the rest of the population to report that they have no friends in 2019-20. 22% of ESA claimants, 23% of JSA claimants, 19% of IS claimants and 15% of UC claimants reported having no friends, whereas only 9% of WTC claimants and 6% of the rest of the population reported the same.
  • Benefit claimants tended to be slightly less likely than the rest of the population in 2019-20 to report being able to talk about their worries with someone in their social network, whether it is a partner, friends, or immediate family. JSA claimants and ESA claimants in particular were  more likely to report only being able to open up a little or not at all to their partner (32% and 22% respectively), friends (31% and 35% respectively), and immediate family (47% and 46% respectively). The quality of social connections of UC and WTC claimants is less poor, with 18% and 16% respectively reported not being able to open up about their worries to their partners. In comparison, 12% of the rest of the population reported the same sentiment about their partner, 22% about their friends, and 31% about their immediate family.
  • Benefit claimants tended to be slightly less likely than the rest of the population to report being able to rely on a social connection in 2019-20 if they have a serious problem. ESA claimants were the most likely to report not being able to rely on their friends (33%) and immediate family (32%) if they have a serious problem, while it was JSA claimants that were  most likely to report not being able to rely on their partner (23%). When looking at the rest of the population, they were  more likely to report being able to rely on their connections if they have a serious problem compared to nearly every other benefit group, and only 19% reported being able to rely a little or not at all on their immediate family, 18% on their friends and 6% on their partner.

Ryan Shorthouse, Chief Executive at Bright Blue, commented:

“The pandemic hit hard. But it was those with modest means who struggled the most. Not only do they have fewer resources to support themselves through tough times, but fewer relationships too. Loneliness is both a cause and consequence of poverty – another ‘Giant Evil’ to add to Beveridge’s list.” 

To arrange an interview with a Bright Blue spokesperson or for further media enquiries, please contact Joseph Silke at joseph@brightblue.org.uk or on 07948 420 584.

  • Bright Blue’s new analysis is entitled Sustained pressure? This analysis is part of a major Bright Blue project on social security, supported by Lloyds Bank Foundation and Trust for London. Bright Blue retains editorial control of all its outputs.
  • The data used is from the 2019-20 UK Household Longitudinal Study.