Change in share of working-age adults receiving Universal Credit during the coronavirus pandemic by local authority

25 August 2021

About 2 mins to read
  • During the pandemic, there were large increases in the number of the working-age population receiving Universal Credit. The figure more than doubled between February 2020 and May 2021, increasing by 3 million to a total of 5.9 million people.

  • By May 2021, 15% of the working-age population in Great Britain were receiving Universal Credit, compared with 7% in February 2020.

  • There were increases in the number of recipients receiving Universal Credit across the country, but particularly outer London, parts of the West Midlands and urban areas of the North East region.

This map shows the change in the proportion of working-age adults in Great Britain claiming Universal Credit between February 2020 and May 2021. Universal Credit is a means-tested benefit – entitlement is dependent on household income and specific circumstances, such as number of children and working-age adults aged under 65 years in the household, and level of rent – and is being used here as a proxy for financial hardship across Great Britain during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Money and resources can affect health in a number of ways. Individuals require a certain level of income to be able to afford the basics for a healthy life. At a level of income above that required to meet basic needs, stresses still exist, and these can eventually harm physical health.

Between February 2020 and May 2021, Great Britain saw large increases in the proportion of working-age adults claiming Universal Credit. In February 2020, 7% of the working-age population were receiving Universal Credit and this rose to 15% by May 2021.

  • The largest increases in the share of population claiming Universal Credit were seen in the London Boroughs of Haringey and Newham (15 percentage point increases), Brent and Barking and Dagenham (14 percentage point increases), and Blackpool (13 percentage point increase).
  • Particularly high levels of an increase in recipients were seen in outer London, as well as local authorities in the West Midlands, Merseyside and Greater Manchester.
  • Most of these areas were already deprived and often had the highest levels of Universal Credit recipients before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most of this increase in Universal Credit recipients relates to those not in work, and is due to increases in unemployment. However, there has still been a substantial increase in new recipients who are working: around 1.3 million of the total increase of 3 million recipients over this period are in employment.

Increases in financial hardship during the coronavirus pandemic have been found to be concentrated in areas that often already had the highest levels of Universal Credit recipients and deprivation before the pandemic, compounding the threat to health resulting from this increase in hardship. These areas are also often urban inner city areas, which are not given a high priority on the government’s levelling up agenda. 

  • This map shows the change in the proportion of people aged 65 years and younger who receive Universal Credit as a percentage of the population aged 16–64 years.
  • The geography presented uses a hexagon for each lower-tier local authority in Great Britain, which is sized in relation to the population of the authority. These are then arranged to resemble their position in Great Britain. The geographical data are the creation of the House of Commons Library and are applied in accordance with the Open Parliament Licence. The geography is available here.
  • Figures for the City of London and the Isles of Scilly are not included because data are missing, or statistically unreliable.

Source: Department for Work and Pensions, People on Universal Credit, May 2021: Great Britain, Office for National Statistics, Mid-Year Population Estimates, June 2020: Great Britain

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