Half a million people didn’t take-up Universal Credit at the start of COVID-19 – and why this matters

In a new report, we estimate that in July/August 2020, about half a million people were eligible for Universal Credit (UC) but didn’t claim it. While the headlines are all about the numbers involved, I here want to deal directly with the argument that we don’t need to worry about non-take-up. Not only does it matter, but it’s also something where different policies can make a difference.

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The effects of information about inequality in different countries

There’s been a surge of research seeing if we can change people’s beliefs by telling them the truth about inequality (as we’ve blogged about on the blog several times before). Understanding what’s going on here is tricky, and I was intrigued by a new paper by Jonathan Mijs that adds a further challenge here: that the effects of information will differ in different countries. In this post I want to explain Mijs’ study, sympathetically critique the study itself, and then reflect on a few wider issues that it raises.

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As you were: How the pandemic failed to change what we think key workers should earn

This is a guest post by the former co-editor of Inequalities Rob de Vries (in collaboration with me and Tina Haux), which was originally posted on the LSE Social Policy blog.

At the height of the first UK lockdown, one message came across loud and clear: Keyworkers are heroes. Nurses and care workers yes; but also delivery drivers, supermarket checkout workers, bus drivers, bin-men, and many more. They are all risking their health and lives (often with no or ineffective protection) to do the jobs required to keep society functioning. And what’s more, they are doing so for precious little pay.

Far more loudly than any deliberate left-wing activism, lockdown seemed to highlight the fundamental injustice of our economic system. Article after article after TV show after radio item – all highlighting how very little we pay people who are suddenly, obviously essential. And how much we pay the bankers, the marketing executives, and the management consultants – whose jobs now seem somewhat superfluous. Posters in every window. Weekly doorstep claps of appreciation. British Vogue, on its July covers, featured not models, but a train driver, a midwife, and a supermarket shop assistant.

So it’s not surprising that many commentators predicted a dramatic shift in our economic attitudes. This is what we expected too, so we decided to check.

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On being more like John Hills

John Hills – a titan of British social policy, and my old PhD supervisor – died just before Christmas. I wanted to write something about John, but it is hard to write in grief. I simply do not have the poetry to convey fine emotions in words; everything comes out as either a bland list of notable achievements, or running through his personal attributes without recapturing the singular human being behind them. None of this is true of the beautiful, painful tribute written by Tania, Abigail, Kitty and Polly, but their eloquence only confirms my own inability to write.

So I here want to write in a different way about John – not trying to capture who he was or what he did, but just to write about what he meant to me. And particularly: why I have started every day since his passing thinking, ‘how can I be more like John Hills today?’

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Data on the social impact of COVID-19

Social data and analysis are not the most important issues at the moment (to put it mildly!), but for those of us who aren’t key workers, this is where we can contribute. And data are genuinely important: good decision-making and political accountability require an understanding of the social consequences of the pandemic, the effectiveness of the social policy response, and a debate about what we can do better.

With this in mind, I’ve put together an open Google Doc on COVID-19 social data – please do use / contribute / share, so this becomes a collective resource! (And thanks to those whose contributions helped me write the first draft). But as well as this, I wanted to reflect on the need for MORE data than we currently have. Continue reading

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Child poverty and perceptions: a response

This is a guest post by Lizzie Flew – who works for the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) – in response to Elizabeth Clery’s blog post here.

In a blog for Inequalities, Elizabeth Clery argues that trends in poverty have remained stable while public perceptions that there is ‘quite a lot’ of poverty (as measured by the British Social Attitudes Survey) have risen.

But when it comes to child poverty, trends have not remained stable. Concerted government action in the 2000s brought child poverty down significantly, and in 2010 there was cross-party support for action to end child poverty by 2020. Tragically, in recent years child poverty has been rising, and so it’s no surprise to us that perceptions of poverty have also been rising. Continue reading

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Perceptions of poverty levels: a long view

This is a guest post by Elizabeth Clery (@liz_clery), who works with the amazing NatCen team that are responsible for the British Social Attitudes Survey.

The latest British Social Attitudes report came out in July, and it pointed out a puzzle in public attitudes to poverty:

  • Trends in poverty have remained relatively stable over the last 12 years (at least using HBAI, and at the population level).
  • However, the proportion of the public thinking that there is “quite a lot” of poverty in Britain has increased markedly over the same period, from 52% in 2006 to 65% now.

Our chapter in the BSA report sought to identify the reasons for this divergence – and in this blog post, I both summarise our findings and probe this slightly further.

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Has Amber Rudd fixed the DWP’s disability assessments?

It’s been a while since a DWP Secretary of State made a major speech on disability assessments – and given the WCA’s continuing failures (not to mention those of PIP), we should be grateful that Amber Rudd has devoted her speech to it today. Her announcement has been mainly positively received so far (at least in the BBC, Sky, Daily Mail, Mirror, though with more reservations by the Graun and Indie), but in this post I want to ask: how far should we welcome Amber Rudd’s policy changes today? Continue reading

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Would more people support foreign aid & charities if they grasped the scale of global inequality?

This is a guest post by the excellent Aveek Bhattacharya, who (like I did!) combines a PhD in Social Policy in LSE with work in the field of alcohol & public health – and is also cross-posted on his personal blog here.

For all the attention that economic inequality has received in recent years, it is too rarely noticed that the largest disparities in living conditions are between people in rich countries and those who are poor by global standards. Yet for those of us concerned about global inequality, the political trends of the past few years in rich countries have been dispiriting. Foreign aid remains politically controversial, hostility to migration appears to have risen, and trade protectionism seems likely to increase.

In a recent article in The Journal of Politics, Gautam Nair suggests one reason for this apparent lack of concern for the global poor is that people in rich countries do not appreciate just how well off they are by global standards. If we can correct these misperceptions, he suggests, support for international redistribution will grow. Continue reading

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Does the new poverty measure fully capture disability poverty?

In recent years, we have seen fierce political battles over what poverty is, and the best way of measuring it. The Social Metrics Commission (SMC) is therefore a brave venture – to get a politically diverse group of people to agree how poverty should be measured in the UK, led by one of Iain Duncan Smith’s former special advisers, but well-represented by a host of the-great-and-the-good from the Labour years. Amazingly this seems to have succeeded, with this week’s SMC report being been well-publicised and well-regarded (see the IFS response in The Times, or the BBC or the Guardian, and a more lukewarm Telegraph piece), but in this post I want to put some scrutiny on a central claim of the new measure: that it better captures poverty among disabled people. Continue reading

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