Funded by: ESRC as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to COVID-19

Principal Investigators: Lisa Scullion, Professor of Social Policy, University of Salford , Ben Baumberg Geiger, Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Social Policy, University of Kent,  Daniel Edmiston, Lecturer in Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds, Jo Ingold, Associate Professor of HRM & Public Policy, University of Leeds and Kate Summers, LSE Fellow in Qualitative Methodology, The London School of Economics and Political Science

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.

Surveying claimants – We will conduct an online survey of 7,000 new and existing claimants, starting in May 2020. We will return to these people twice over the next year.

Case studies of claimant 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 will interview 80 claimants twice (160 interviews in total), beginning in June 2020 and will include a diverse range of experiences.

Our research involves three inter-related work packages (WPs). The WPs will answer three research questions that are critical for impact:

RQ1. Income: Do new COVID-19-related claimants receive the income they need, when they need it? How far does this depend on UC advances and/or support outside the benefits system?

RQ2. Support: How do existing and new COVID-19-related claimants navigate their digital UC claim? How far do they receive the support they need during social distancing/social isolation and are there inequalities in this?

RQ3. Returning to work: How do existing and new claimants experience the (re)introduction of conditionality and employment support after relaxation of social distancing? How effective is the (re)introduction of these measures in supporting claimants into employment?

We are working hard to generate as much open-access raw data as possible in line with broader research efforts around Covid-19. We will also be undertaking:

  • Policy briefings and discussion papers
  • Research reports
  • Virtual policy roundtables
  • Practitioner roundtables

Over the course of the project we will be publishing regular reports, blogs and briefings from the project on our website.