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      The Early Warning System: how frontline evidence helps us understand the UK’s social security response to COVID-19

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          This article reports on the Child Poverty Action Group Early Warning System (EWS), a database of case studies representing social security issues reported directly by frontline benefits advice workers and benefit claimants. It outlines what data from the EWS can tell us about how the social security system is functioning and how it has responded during the pandemic. It further details how insights from the EWS can be used by researchers and policymakers seeking to understand the role of social security in supporting families living on a low income and in advocating for short- and longer-term policy change.

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          Most cited references11

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          Poverty, health, and covid-19

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            Is Open Access

            Effects on mental health of a UK welfare reform, Universal Credit: a longitudinal controlled study

            Summary Background Universal Credit, a welfare benefit reform in the UK, began to replace six existing benefit schemes in April, 2013, starting with the income-based Job Seekers Allowance. We aimed to determine the effects on mental health of the introduction of Universal Credit. Methods In this longitudinal controlled study, we linked 197 111 observations from 52 187 individuals of working age (16–64 years) in England, Wales, and Scotland who participated in the Understanding Society UK Longitudinal Household Panel Study between 2009 and 2018 with administrative data on the month when Universal Credit was introduced into the area in which each respondent lived. We included participants who had data on employment status, local authority area of residence, psychological distress, and confounding variables. We excluded individuals from Northern Ireland and people out of work with a disability. We used difference-in-differences analysis of this nationally representative, longitudinal, household survey and separated respondents into two groups: unemployed people who were eligible for Universal Credit (intervention group) and people who were not unemployed and therefore would not have generally been eligible for Universal Credit (comparison group). Using the phased roll-out of Universal Credit, we compared the change in psychological distress (self-reported via General Health Questionnaire-12) between the intervention group and the comparison group over time as the reform was introduced in the area in which each respondent lived. We defined clinically significant psychological distress as a score of greater than 3 on the General Health Questionnaire-12. We tested whether there were differential effects across subgroups (age, sex, and education). Findings The prevalence of psychological distress increased in the intervention group by 6·57 percentage points (95% CI 1·69–11·42) after the introduction of Universal Credit relative to the comparison group, after accounting for potential confounders. We estimate that between April 29, 2013, and Dec 31, 2018, an additional 63 674 (95% CI 10 042–117 307) unemployed people will have experienced levels of psychological distress that are clinically significant due to the introduction of Universal Credit; 21 760 of these individuals might reach the diagnostic threshold for depression. Interpretation Our findings suggest that the introduction of Universal Credit led to an increase in psychological distress, a measure of mental health difficulties, among those affected by the policy. Future changes to government welfare systems should be evaluated not only on a fiscal basis but on their potential to affect health and wellbeing. Funding Wellcome Trust, UK National Institute for Health Research, and Medical Research Council.
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              Hunger Pains: Life Inside Foodbank Britain


                Author and article information

                Journal of Poverty and Social Justice
                Bristol University Press
                June 2021
                June 2021
                : 29
                : 2
                : 221-230
                [1 ]University of York, UK
                [2 ]Child Poverty Action Group, UK
                © 2021


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