In March 2020, the UK Government announced two major financial support schemes to protect the livelihoods of people whose earned incomes were negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic:
- The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS)
- The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS)
The CJRS system went live in April 2020 with the SEISS following in May. Both schemes have since been extended several times in response to continued social distancing restrictions and lockdowns. However there are some people who have not been eligible for either scheme – a group investigated in this study and referred to as ‘the excluded’.
The excluded are defined as those meeting all of the following criteria:
- Having experienced income shock
- Having never received income through either scheme
- Not being new claimants of universal credit
- Having a household income lower than it was in February 2020
This study uses data from the fourth of a series of tracker surveys about the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic across the UK. The survey was conducted online in January 2021, by research company YouGov, and asked 6,784 randomly selected members of their online panel about their personal and household finances. It includes booster samples for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which have been weighted back to their correct proportions.
The analysis includes a segmentation into four Financial Wellbeing categories, which is based on scores from a principal component analysis of nine survey questions that cover the extent to which households could meet their financial obligation.
The report was commissioned by Standard Life Foundation, an independent charitable foundation focused on improving living standards.
Labour market: The survey shows the bottom-heavy effects of the coronavirus crisis in the labour market. Employees in the bottom earnings quintile are more likely to have lost their jobs, been furloughed, or experienced hours reductions than those in the top quintile.
Incomes: The negative effects of the crisis on incomes are more evenly shared out across the income distribution; the authors explain that low earners aren’t all in low income households, low earners are less likely to be working and therefore lose work, and the benefits system protects incomes.
Spending: There is a much starker pattern in relation to spending changes, with those on higher incomes most likely to have reduced spending. The authors state that in normal times, we might interpret spending falls as a ‘bad thing’, reflecting either falls in income or precautionary savings behaviour. However, falling levels of spending in this crisis also reflect reduced opportunities amongst high income families to spend on non-essentials – and therefore to save money.
Ability to manage financially: Respondents’ views of changes in their ability to manage financially show a much clearer gradient across income quintiles than do income changes. Those in the bottom quintile of pre-coronavirus incomes are much more likely to say that their ability to manage has worsened whereas, despite a deep recession being underway, respondents in the top quintile are as likely to say that things have improved as worsened.
Implications: The authors conclude that policy makers must take heed of the more serious living standards implications of the crisis for lower-income families.
Only findings that were found to be statistically significant (i.e. at least p<0.5, chi-square test) are reported.
Points to consider
Methodological strengths/weaknesses: The authors compared their estimate of 7.2 per cent of the adult population to administrative statistics on the CJRS, and found that the survey slightly under-estimates the number of people who have been furloughed at any point throughout the pandemic, meaning that the true excluded figure is likely to be between 3.0 and 3.8 million. They make no comment on the impact this may have on any of the other data.
Generalisability/ transferability: A topical and relevant study as the financial impact of the pandemic continues to affect people in the UK.
Relevance: The study is specific to UK and can’t be transferred
- The study aims to influence government and policy makers, but will also be of interest to anyone involved in issues around low income households and individuals, such as support agencies or policy implementers.