Half a million people eligible for universal credit during pandemic don’t claim it, report says
Half a million people eligible for universal credit at the start of the pandemic did not claim it despite a sharp drop in their income, new research shows.
Report led by the University of Salford and funded by the Health Foundation reveals hundreds of thousands of people were unaware they could claim help, while others chose not to claim due to the hassle perceived demand-side or the stigma surrounding the demand for benefits.
Ministers are now urged to introduce a strategy to ensure people can claim the right benefits faster, correct misconceptions about the benefits system and attempt to tackle the “benefit stigma”.
The number of people claiming universal credit in the UK has doubled since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and more than 6 million people are now benefiting from it.
But the results, based on a survey of 2,763 probable non-applicants, estimate that between 430,000 and 560,000 people were eligible for the benefit at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic but did not claim it – including more. half mistakenly believed they were not eligible.
A quarter of a million more people thought they were eligible for universal credit but did not want to claim it. A third of this cohort said it was because they did not need the benefits, while 59 percent said it was because of the perceived hassle and 27 percent because of the stigma of the benefits. .
Dr Ben Baumberg Geiger, lead author of the report and senior lecturer at the University of Kent, said these people were “largely invisible” because the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) no longer assesses the number of people affected, as he did. previously done for other benefits.
“It is therefore not surprising that many of these people suffer from mental health problems and financial difficulties, some of them severely,” he added.
The study also found that almost half of the respondents reported serious financial difficulties – either falling behind on housing costs, not keeping up with bills or not being able to buy fresh fruit and vegetables every day. days.
A further two-thirds were unable to cope with an unforeseen expense like replacing a refrigerator, and more than one in six – or 80,000 people – had skipped a meal in the previous two weeks because they did not the means to eat.
Lisa Scullion, professor of social policy at the University of Salford and head of the project, said that while the benefit system as a whole had responded well to unprecedented demand during the pandemic, “historic weaknesses” remained.
She described “relatively high levels of need” among people who do not claim the benefits to which they are entitled, and called on the DWP to publish its own “benefit management strategy” for the UK in its together.
Alison Garnham, managing director of Child Poverty Action Group, said research shows people eligible for universal credit still had “no idea what to or what to claim and know, based on their experience and that of others, that claiming can be as difficult as it is stigmatizing ”. .
She added: “The claim that universal credit is simpler and easier to access is not borne out. It is the DWP’s responsibility to ensure that the application process is made more user-friendly, that applicants have the support they need – especially those without digital skills – and that the eligibility criteria and rights are well publicized and participation rates made public. they used to be used for other advantages.
“For years benefit claimants have been stigmatized in the UK and this can deter claimants. The pandemic should be an opportunity to change perceptions of social security so that it is seen as an adequate safety net – available and accessible as of right to all of us in difficult times. “
A government spokesperson said: “We want to make sure everyone receives the support they are entitled to and we urge anyone who thinks they are eligible for universal credit to apply.
“Universal credit is designed to be as accessible as possible and has provided a vital safety net for six million people during the coronavirus pandemic.”