Policy Paper: Welfare Policy after World War One and Covid-19

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Dr Michael Robinson is an Early Career Researcher based at the University of Liverpool. He is currently funded by the Leverhulme Trust on a three-year project entitled ‘Disability, Welfare and Ageing: First World War Veterans of the British Empire’ (ID/Ref: ECF-2019-480).

The economic lockdown in response to Covid-19 has caused an upturn in Universal Credit claims and necessitated adjustments in welfare policy and procedure. Dr Robinson explains more about his research:

Welfare in Economic Crises

“The coronavirus pandemic and its resulting economic lockdowns has highlighted the importance of Universal Credit in British society. The number of recipients on Universal Credit soared to 2.7 million people between March to August representing almost a 121% increase in just six months. The rapid rise was instigated by the resulting constraints on employment opportunities especially for those in insecure employment and outside the remit of the government furlough scheme. The DWP has made more than twenty operational changes to cater for the increase in claims in the aftermath of the nationwide lockdown. One of the most significant alterations involves the basic Universal Credit allowance being increased by £20 per week or £1,000 per year for a time-limited period of twelve months until April 2021. This temporary uplift in Universal Credit allowances spoke directly to my post-doctoral research into veteran disability pensions in inter-war Britain.

The coalition Government passed a War Pensions Act in 1919 in response to intense public and political lobbying on behalf of the welfare of disabled veterans. Levels of incapacity were measured by graded benefits: the previous maximum one-hundred percent pension of 27s 6d per week to 40s. The 1919 Warrant fixed pensions to reflect the war-related inflation of prices under the proviso that the allowances would be reduced once the cost of living reduced post-war. However, the uplifted pension rates remained throughout the inter-war period despite the cost of living being reduced. Its survival came as politicians responded to public support for its continuation and the effective lobbying of ex-service charities and organisations.

A coalition of some fifty charities, including the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Barnado's and the Child Poverty Action Group, recently implored the Conservative Government to continue the temporary uplifted Universal Credit payments beyond its current time-limit. The Government has remained non-committal thus far in deciding its future. As my research into disability pensions in the aftermath of the First World War demonstrates, the goodwill of the British public and the efforts of charities will, once again, have an important role in dictating the direction of policy.”

Read the full policy paper

You can follow D Michael Robinson on Twitter at @robinsonmj07.