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Welfare attitudes in a crisis: how COVID exceptionalism undermined greater solidarity

De Vries, Robert, Geiger, Ben Baumberg, Scullion, Lisa, Summers, Kate ORCID: 0000-0001-9964-0259, Edmiston, Daniel ORCID: 0000-0001-8715-654X, Ingold, Jo, Robertshaw, David and Young, David (2023) Welfare attitudes in a crisis: how COVID exceptionalism undermined greater solidarity. Journal of Social Policy. ISSN 0047-2794

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Identification Number: 10.1017/S0047279423000466


COVID-19 had the potential to dramatically increase public support for welfare. It was a time of apparent increased solidarity, of apparently deserving claimants, and of increasingly widespread exposure to the benefits system. However, there are also reasons to expect the opposite effect: an increase in financial strain fostering austerity and self-interest, and thermostatic responses to increasing welfare generosity. In this paper, we investigate the effects of the pandemic on attitudes towards working-age unemployment benefits in the UK using a unique combination of data sources: (i) temporally fine-grained data on attitudinal change over the course of the pandemic; and (ii) a novel nationally representative survey contrasting attitudes towards pandemic-era and pre-pandemic claimants (including analysis of free-text responses). Our results show that the pandemic prompted little change in UK welfare attitudes. However, we also find that COVID-era unemployment claimants were perceived as substantially more deserving than those claiming prior to the pandemic. This contrast suggests a strong degree of 'COVID exceptionalism' - with COVID claimants seen as categorically different from conventional claimants, muting the effect of the pandemic on welfare attitudes overall.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: © The Author(s), 2023.
Divisions: Methodology
Subjects: H Social Sciences
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
Date Deposited: 26 Oct 2023 23:24
Last Modified: 19 May 2024 06:24

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