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Benefits stigma decreased after pandemic support measures

The pandemic has shown how "the unexpected can hit any of us" making Brits more understanding of each other's benefits struggles, new research suggests
More than half of Brits think people have more compassion for those who need to claim benefits

Fewer people feel embarrassment about claiming benefits now compared to before Covid-19 hit the UK, a new study has revealed.

The pandemic-driven economic shutdown forced thousands of people into poverty through redundancies, income cuts and soaring living costs, as the number of people claiming Universal Credit nearly doubled between March 2020 and February this year.

And new figures suggest those experiences had a direct impact on how the public perceives the welfare system, according to research commissioned by food poverty charity the Trussell Trust.

Around 35 per cent of people surveyed said they would – or did – feel embarrassed about claiming benefits, a nearly 10 per cent drop compared to twelve months prior.

Meanwhile six in 10 of the 2,000 UK adults surveyed said the Covid-19 crisis showed needing financial support from the state was nothing to be embarrassed about.

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The shift in attitudes signals a “unique opportunity to challenge the norm,” according to a Trussell Trust spokesperson.

“The last 12 months have been hard for everyone, with many finding themselves weaker financially.

“But perhaps the universal impact of the pandemic has shown how the unexpected can hit any of us, and the need for change.

“When one person goes hungry, our whole society is weaker.”

Nearly 40 per cent of adults said they viewed people claiming benefits poorly before Covid-19 hit the UK, while 35 per cent said they had criticised someone for needing financial support in the past.

A little over a decade since then-Prime Minister David Cameron called benefit claimants “welfare scroungers”, 37 per cent of people said they would keep it secret if they needed to claim benefits – or already have kept it secret.

But Brits are hopeful that society is growing more compassionate, with 52 per cent of respondents believing the pandemic has made people across the country more sympathetic to people who need financial support.

“We will continue to support food banks to provide emergency help for as long as it is needed, but we all need to do much more to build a hunger free future,” the Trussell Trust spokesperson added.

“Together we can end the need for food banks and create a stronger society – where no one goes hungry.    

“We can create a future where everyone can afford basics as we campaign for a better, more just society, where no-one needs to turn to charity to get by.” 

Universal Credit will be worth less to people who receive it than it was in 2013 if the planned £20 per week cut goes ahead, Citizens Advice Scotland researchers warned before the Chancellor pushed the cut back from April to September.

But the UK public backs keeping the increase, which has been described as a “lifeline” for people struggling to make ends meet by recipients and campaigners.

Delivering the UK Government’s budget, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said ministers were determined to “extend support for the lowest paid and most vulnerable”, and would focus on helping people away from benefits and into “decent, well-paid jobs” as the country emerges from lockdown. Westminster’s Covid-19 support package has benefited the UK’s “poorest households” the most, he added.