round 15% of unsuccessful benefits claimants have gone hungry because they can’t afford food, according to new research from Salford University.
The UK report showed 290,000 people unsuccessfully tried to claim benefits during the first Covid-19 lockdown, most of them professionals.
As a result, around 4% are now using food banks and 28% cannot afford daily fresh fruit and vegetables.
Funded by the Health Foundation, the report, ‘At the edge of the safety net: Unsuccessful benefits claims at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic’ also found the financial pressures were accompanied by high levels of mental ill-health problems. High anxiety levels were reported by around 60% of unsuccessful claimants com-pared to 45.5% in the wider population.
The study highlights the UK’s focus on providing benefits as a safety net to ensure the basics, rather than helping people who are struggling, even if they are not in danger of destitution.
Most of the unsuccessful claimants were considered ineligible because their partner earned too much or the household had too much in savings.
“Little attention has been paid to unsuccessful claimants, yet some are acutely deprived”
The fairness of this has been called into question because workers placed on furlough (officially the Job Retention Scheme) received at least 80% of prior earnings up to a ceiling, irrespective of their other income or savings.
Those not eligible for furlough received flat-rate and comparably less generous Universal Credit – and this was not available to those with significant other income or savings above £16,000.
Dr Ben Baumberg Geiger, lead author of the report and a Senior Lecturer at the University of Kent, said, “Little attention has been paid to unsuccessful claimants during the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet they are often under considerable financial strain and have poor mental health, and some are more acutely deprived.
“While fundamental decisions about the benefits system require complex trade-offs, policymakers should think about whether the eligibility criteria for benefits could be changed so that it could help a greater number of those who are struggling financially.”
Some organisations have called for wealth testing to be temporarily changed or removed during Covid-19.