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Turn2us is a national charity which helps people in financial need gain access to welfare benefits, charitable grants and other financial help—online, by phone and face to face through partner organisations.

Their benefit calculator allows people to quickly and easily check what benefits they are entitled to and the value they can expect to receive should they apply for them.

Turn2us shared data with NPC about the use of this benefit calculator between January-June 2019 and January-June 2020. We know from official statistics that more than three million people have claimed support through Universal Credit since the UK coronavirus lockdown began and, as you would expect, the benefit calculator has recently received a large increase in users compared to the same period last year. Within this overall increase we have identified some trends, exploring which groups are facing increased need because of this crisis.

We should be clear that we are looking at use of the benefit calculator, not the users per se, though we have drawn some inferences about the users from the information that is entered into the calculator. For this analysis, we have assumed one use of the calculator per household.

Our key findings include:

  • Use of the benefit calculator rose by 60% in January-June 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, but this underplays the rapid rise in use during the initial months of the UK lockdown, when it rose 279%.
  • There is a general trend that local authorities that traditionally have less deprivation are facing the largest increases in benefit calculator users.
  • The share of benefit calculator users with mortgages rose by 6 percentage points, from 15% of total benefit calculator users in January-June 2019 to 21% in January-June 2020.

All of the analysis below is based on data from January-June 2019 and January-June 2020. All of the data focuses on England. Most of this analysis is at the local authority level and regional level, to ensure that we have sample sizes that are large enough to say something meaningful about.

Accessing the Turn2us data on NPC’s interactive Covid-19 data dashboard will let you see the full picture. This paper, and our Covid-19 data work, aim to make data more accessible to charities, funders and policymakers. We hope to inspire others to use their data proactively, to inform how they work and to advocate for change.

Increased use

The Office for National Statistics believe that the UK economy may have lost as many as 650,000 jobs between March and June 2020. This situation will have brought people to the Turn2us benefit calculator. Across England, use of the benefit calculator rose by 60% in January-June 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, but this underplays the rapid rise in use during the initial months of the UK lockdown, where it rose 279%.

Figure 1 demonstrates that while use increased across the board, the increase in use primarily came from London and the South East. Despite the overall increase, the share of benefit calculator users from different regions of England remained remarkably consistent.

Figure 1: Regional use of the benefit calculator, January-June 2019 and January-June 2020

Figure 1: Regional use of the Turn2us benefit calculator, January-June 2019 and January-June 2020

Figure 2 demonstrates the change in benefit calculator users in 2020 compared to 2019. The use of the benefit calculator fell in all regions year on year in January by 9%. This was followed by a steep rise of 45% in February, shooting up to a 278% year on year increase in March 2020—when the start of the UK lockdown was announced. Use then fell in both May and June 2020 when compared to 2019.

What caused these fluctuations? We have three suggestions.

  1. Anxiety around finances and benefits eligibility may have been more acute in the initial weeks of the crisis. Turn2us saw extremely high early demand for the benefit calculator during the first months of lockdown, resulting in a spike in activity which sharply decreased in May. Use of the calculator may have fallen due to at risk individuals having already used the calculator at the beginning of lockdown and because new policies, such as the government’s Job Retention Scheme, may have reduced some financial anxieties. If this is the case, we would expect to see another large spike when the government’s Job Retention Scheme comes to a close.
  2. Another factor to note regarding the drop in use in May, while the crisis was still ongoing, is that the Turn2us benefit calculator is one of three benefit calculators found on the UK government website. In May, the Turn2us benefit calculator was moved from first position on a list on this website to third—potentially resulting in less traffic being directed to the Turn2us benefit calculator.
  3. Regarding the rise in use in February, which occurred ‘pre-lockdown’, it is possible that concerns about the virus and a slowing global economy may have had an early impact on employment. In February, we also note several stories in the media regarding the delay of the Universal Credit rollout, including the airing of a BBC2 documentary Universal Credit: Inside the Welfare State. This discourse may have stimulated above average interest in, and use of, the Turn2us benefit calculator.

By combining the benefit calculator data with other data provided to us by Turn2Us, we can also explore the extent to which media interest in unemployment and the work of Turn2us may have influenced the use of the benefit calculator. To demonstrate this, in Figure 2 we have overlaid press mentions of Turn2us over the change in benefit calculator use between January-June 2019 and January-June 2020. We can see that the major increases in the use of the benefit calculator correspond to the increases in press coverage. However, sustained high levels of coverage do not seem to correspond to sustained demand for the benefit calculator.

Figure 2: Percentage change in use of the benefit calculator by month, January-June 2019 and January-June 2020, and press mentions in 2020

Figure 2: Percentage change in users of the benefit calculator by month, January-June 2019 and January-June 2020, and press mentions in 2020

New kinds of people using the service

Figure 3 shows a scatter plot of the local authorities that saw the highest and lowest increases in benefit calculator users over the January-June 2019 and January-June 2020 periods, against the local authority’s rank in the Index of Multiple Deprivation (1 being the most deprived, 317 being the least deprived. We have excluded low sample size local authorities, namely the Isles of Scilly and the City of London, where the benefit calculator has not yet been used before).

We can see a general trend that local authorities that traditionally have less deprivation are facing the highest increases in benefit calculator users. The only region that is an exception to this is London. Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Haringey experience higher than average levels of deprivation and have been some of the main sources of increased numbers of benefit calculator users.

It’s also worthwhile to look at the bottom left quadrants of Figure 3 and to note how many of these local authorities are in the North East—a deprived region of England but one where, even in 2019, Turn2us received the lowest share of benefit calculator users from. It should however be noted that the North East also has the lowest population of any of England’s regions and the share of benefit calculator users that Turn2us receives from here is in line with this.

Figure 3: Increase in users of the benefit calculator by local authority, January-June 2019 and January-June 2020

Figure 3: Increases in use of the Turn2us benefit calculator by local authority, January-June 2019 and January-June 2020

We can see that the crisis is pushing people from more affluent regions towards the benefit calculator. We believe that we are also seeing different kinds of people, those who have not historically been likely to use the welfare system, making up a greater share of Turn2us’ service users.

For example, there has been a large increase in use of the benefit calculator by people who have a mortgage, up 230% overall, but spiking at over 500% in March 2020 compared to March 2019. Londoners with a mortgage using the benefit calculator was up 754% in March 2020 compared to March 2019.

Proportionally, the share of benefit calculator users with a mortgage rose by 6 percentage points, from 15% of total users in January-June 2019 to 21% of total users in January-June 2020. Conversely, among social tenants, we saw a 9 percentage point drop between the period in 2019 and the period in 2020 (although the absolute number of social tenants using the benefit calculator, and indeed all groups, still increased).

Large proportional increases in the share of benefit calculator users from London and areas in the South, as well as from mortgage holders, suggests that the demographics of those considering using the welfare system have changed as a result of this crisis. However, this hypothesis rests of some assumptions about the relationships between individuals, wealth, class, housing status and geography. We need to investigate further which groups are being pushed towards charitable services by this crisis and what policy implications this may have further down the line.

Figure 4: Benefit calculator users by housing status, January-June 2019 and January-June 2020

Figure 4: Benefit calculator users by housing status, January-June 2019 and January-June 2020

Figure 5: Percentage increase of benefit calculator users by housing status, January-June 2019 and January-June 2020

Figure 5: Percentage increase of applications by housing status, January-June 2019 and January-June 2020

Which benefits are users entitled to?

The roll out of Universal Credit in 2019 marked a significant shift in how the welfare system in England operates. This means it is now difficult to compare what benefits users are entitled to over time due to recent changes in benefit entitlements. This switch to Universal Credit means that entitlement, and therefore calculator users’ entitlements to, Jobseekers Allowance, Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit, Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit have all fallen drastically, while entitlement to Universal Credit has increased by 98%.

Figure 6 is a regional comparison of benefit entitlements that have not changed between 2019 and 2020. These include: Child Benefit, Child Tax Credit, Council Tax Support and Carers Allowance. It is noteworthy that entitlements have gone up across the board—likely as a result of Covid-19 related changes to income—but there are still notable variations by region.

In particular, London and the South East saw large increases in eligibility for Council Tax Support and Child Benefit; whereas the North East has a lower proportion of those entitled to these benefits. This, again, is likely to reflect increased changes in incomes as a result of this crisis.

Figure 6: Percentage increase of entitlement to benefits by region, January-June 2019 and January-June 2020

Figure 6: Percentage increase of applications and resulting entitlement to benefit by region, January-June 2019 and January-June 2020

We found that in January-June 2020, benefit calculator users were 15% less likely to be eligible for Child Benefit and 1.6% less likely to be eligible for Child Tax Credit. This suggests that benefit calculator users in 2020 were more likely to be childless (or have a smaller number of children). This finding is true for each of the regions and suggests that a proportion of the recent increase in calculator use was coming from individuals without dependents, a group who are usually less financially vulnerable.

Benefit calculator users with a disability

Turn2us collects data on the disabilities of users of the benefits calculator and their households, including whether there are any caring requirements in the home. In Figure 7, we present the upper and lower estimates of calculator users that have a disability in their household.

It’s clear that during the peak months of the lockdown, households without a disability increased as a proportion of benefit calculator users. Our conservative estimates suggest that the proportion of benefit calculator users that have a disability in the home fell from an average of 25% between January 2019 and February 2020, to 13% in March 2020. This is despite seeing a doubling of benefit calculator users with a disability in the household (34,356 estimated benefit calculator users with a disability in the household in March 2019 versus 74,480 in March 2020).

Figure 7: Estimated number of benefit calculator users with a disability, high and low estimates versus total calculator users, January-June 2019 and January-June 2020

Figure 7: Estimated number of calculator users with a disability, high and low estimates vs total calculator users, January-June 2019 and January-June 2020

Figure 8 looks at the percentage increase of benefit calculator use by disability status, between January-June 2019 and January-June 2020. Broadly, these benefit calculator users follow similar trends across the board, though the largest increases in use were from those whose partner had a disability, or those who are employed and have a long-term illness. These are individuals who we could consider as having the highest likelihood of needing to shield because of Covid-19, which could affect their financial status.

Figure 8: Percentage increase of benefit calculator use by disability status, January-June 2019 and January-June 2020

Figure 8: Percentage increase of applications by disability status, January-June 2019 and January-June 2020

Thank you to Turn2us. NPC’s Covid-19 data for charities and funders is supported by the Health Foundation. You can find all of our coronavirus data for charities and funders on this page.

NPC have analysed Covid-19 demand data from Turn2us. They have identified key trends about this crisis and share insight on which new groups of people are in need of support Click To Tweet

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