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Even before the pandemic hit, more than 1 million households (including 550,000 children) were unable to afford the bare essentials, according to a report last week by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.  

Coronavirus, and the measures implemented to contain it, are exacerbating these already concerning levels of financial insecurity across the UK. Many households have been pushed further into poverty and debt during 2020. This includes families with children who are having to rely on food banks in order to get enough to eat. With a clear link between poverty and ill health, this will have lasting implications for future generations.  

In April, the government introduced the £20 a week increase in Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit for families during the pandemic. However, the increase is due to be reversed in April 2021, despite forecasted figures for unemployment, which is expected to peak at 7.5%.  

What do the public think about this? 

This year the Health Foundation has commissioned regular Ipsos MORI polling on public perceptions during the COVID-19 pandemic. We published previous results in June and September.  

In our latest round of polling we asked what the public thought about the uplift to Universal Credit. 

Results show that there is broad-based support for the government making the £20 Universal Credit uplift permanent beyond April 2021 (59%, including 42% who strongly support this). Only 20% would oppose the move (including 10% who would strongly oppose it). 

The latest Health Foundation and Ipsos MORI research also finds that public support for the UK government's response to the pandemic has deteriorated. Only 39% of the public think the government has handled the pandemic well, a fall of 21 percentage points from 60% in May.  

Support for making the £20 Universal Credit uplift permanent is particularly strong among those who think the government has not handled the pandemic well (66% of whom support a permanent uplift, compared to 59% overall), as well as those who want stronger measures to contain the spread of the virus (67% of whom support this). Support is consistent across most parts of society, with 46% of Conservative voters saying they would support the move, compared to 32% who are opposed. 

Protecting people from the health impacts of poverty 

The Health Foundation strongly agrees that the government should act now to make permanent its increase to Universal Credit in an effort to help protect people from the negative mental and physical health impacts of poverty.  

The government’s current plans would remove vital support for the poorest at the worst possible time. With previous analysis from the Health Foundation showing that the poorest 40% were already twice as likely to report ill health than the richest 20% before COVID-19, it’s clear that the economic blows from the pandemic now risk widening existing health inequalities. 

As our Chief Executive, Dr Jennifer Dixon, explains:

'There’s a clear link between poverty and poor health. Those with the lowest incomes, including many who have lost jobs and income due to the pandemic, will be hit the hardest if the Chancellor lets the £20 per week increase in Universal Credit expire. 

‘The increase is worth £1,040 per year for the 6 million households receiving it, many with children, who can’t afford the basics. The pandemic will have long-term scarring effects on our society unless the government acts more. This research shows the public want better and more secure support for the most vulnerable. 

‘Making the £20 uplift permanent would show that we are all in this together and the government really is committed to 'building back better'. It is also a clear opportunity to rebuild public support among those increasingly sceptical about the government’s overall approach to handling the pandemic.'

What else did the polling tell us? 

A majority of the public (57%) supports the principle of applying tighter restrictions in areas with higher cases of the virus, but only 33% of people think the measures the government has taken to tackle the COVID-19 outbreak are 'about right' and 49% want the government to do more to slow the spread of the virus.  

The public are split on whether it is possible to protect both public health and the economy during the pandemic, with 45% who strongly agree or tend to agree it is possible to do both and 37% who strongly disagree or tend to disagree. People who are more concerned about controlling the spread of the virus were more likely to disagree that both can be protected. 

People continue to be very concerned about the longer-term impacts of COVID-19. Nearly 9 in 10 (86%) are concerned about the risk COVID-19 presents to the health and wellbeing of the nation, while even more (94%) are concerned about the risk to health and wellbeing of the knock-on impact of coronavirus on lifestyles and the economy – with more very concerned than in July (up from 67% to 72%). 

Explore the full report


This content originally featured in our email newsletter, which explores perspectives and expert opinion on a different health or health care topic each month.

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