COVID realities: families on low incomes during the pandemic

Researchers: Ruth Patrick | Kayleigh Garthwaite ...

Project overview


This project will investigate how families on a low income navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, while also tracking how the social security system responds.

The coronavirus pandemic is affecting the lives of everyone in the UK, but experiences of it differ greatly according to age, household composition, employment and income level. It is likely that the pandemic will expose and extend existing inequalities, creating significant new forms of vulnerabilities and hardship. The closure of schools places an additional strain on families who rely on the financial and social support that schools provide and who also need to work, while social distancing and lockdown make it difficult to maintain routine budgetary practices for managing on a low income.

Across the immediate crisis, its aftermath, and into the medium-term, this project will improve understanding of how families on a low income experience the pandemic, and the responses of the institutions and organisations supporting them. It will:

  • Explore how the social security system responds to COVID-19 – using the Child Poverty Action Group’s Early Warning System, which provides real time information on design and delivery issues identified by welfare rights advisers,
  • Explore how researchers of poverty can ethically and effectively conduct research in these challenging times – working with researchers with longitudinal qualitative, quantitative, and participatory research underway to develop sensitive methodological approaches to assess the experience and impact of COVID-19 on families on a low income and to aggregate and disseminate emerging findings.
  • Document how families living on a low income are navigating the pandemic – through a participatory methodology that will enable families in a range of situations to share and exchange their experiences on a range of areas including the implications of school closures, work and care, navigating the social security system, and the roles played by advice services, food banks and other forms of emergency provision.
  • Model the impact of social security changes on the incomes of families with children and assess the likely effect of alternative policy approaches, especially those emerging as relevant from the findings across other phases of the project.
  • Create clear, effective chains of communication with policymakers – to disseminate findings and policy implications arising from the research and to influence policymaking in real time.

Overall, the project will illuminate the experiences of families in poverty during an unprecedented time; influence the evolving policy response; and generate insight into how social security policymaking in the UK changes, and is changed, by COVID-19.

Team


  • Ruth Patrick
    University of York
  • Kayleigh Garthwaite
    University of Birmingham
  • Maddy Power
    University of York
  • Sophie Howes
    Child Poverty Action Group
  • Tom Lee
    Child Poverty Action Group
  • Daniel Norris
    Child Poverty Action Group

  • Alex Beer
    Senior Consultant, Welfare
    Nuffield Foundation

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We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

We are an open, collaborative and engaged funder that offers more than money. Through connecting the individual projects we fund, we strengthen their collective impact and give voice to an overarching narrative.

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COVID-19 response

Nuffield-funded social scientists are conducting COVID-19 research in real-time, to capture people’s experiences of the social, cultural and economic impacts of the pandemic.