194.DWP is the government department responsible for “understanding and dealing with the causes of poverty”. In 2018/19, before the coronavirus outbreak:
195.Since the outbreak, a significant part of the population has suddenly lost income. Low paid workers are more likely to work in shut down sectors and are less likely to be able to work from home. According to the IFS, one third of employees in the bottom 10% of earners work in shut down sectors, and less than 10% of the bottom half of earners say they can work from home.
196.Turn2Us highlighted the particular hardships faced by households with children, saying that:
According to our survey data families with children are more likely to have had their employment status affected by coronavirus than childless households (57%, 37%). Our survey also found that over 1.7 million households, including 2.1 million children, are currently unable to afford food due to coronavirus affecting their employment.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that “mothers are more likely [than fathers] to have quit or lost their job, or to have been furloughed, since the start of the lockdown.”
197.The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, Justin Tomlinson, is responsible not only for DWP’s strategy on disability and disability employment but also has cross-government responsibility for disabled people. Disabled people have also been disproportionately affected by the outbreak. We have described in Chapter 3 the additional costs faced by disabled people. Past experience suggests that disabled people are more likely to lose their jobs in a recession. Research by Leonard Cheshire, conducted before the coronavirus pandemic, showed that 24% of employers already said that they would be less likely to employ someone with a disability and that 66% of employers viewed the costs of workplace adjustments as a barrier to employing a disabled person. It noted that:
Any period of involuntary separation of individuals from the labour market will have a significant impact on future labour market outcomes. Longer periods of absence from the workplace will lock disabled people into a cycle of low economic inactivity. When a disabled person falls out of work for an extended period of time, they are more likely to struggle to return to the workplace and are twice as likely to remain unemployed when compared to non-disabled people.
198.We heard that concerns about disabled people facing discrimination in the workplace and disproportionate job losses are no less important in the current labour market context. Shaw Trust, a specialist employment support provider, told us that it is “vital” that unemployed disabled people get the support they need. This is especially important as they face “significant competition” from people who have recently left employment, and may be perceived by employers as an easier option. The TUC told the Women and Equalities Committee that people with protected characteristics (including disabilities) may be at risk of discriminatory redundancy procedures, and highlighted employers’ legal obligations to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people to help ensure they can do their jobs. They recommended that the Government “actively promote” the need for non-discriminatory redundancy and selection procedures, and the obligation on employers to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people. Our predecessor Committee also looked at some of these issues in its inquiry on Assistive Technology. That inquiry made recommendations on how the Access to Work scheme could be used to better support disabled people to work flexibly, including supporting home working.
199.There are also geographical differences. The Institute for Employment Studies has found that the areas with highest unemployment before the outbreak have seen rises of on average 2.5 percentage points, to 7.7%, while those areas with lowest unemployment have seen a rise of just 1.4 points, to 2.6%.
200.The Government has said that “Currently there is insufficient data to estimate the precise economic impact of the pandemic on different groups.”
201.The coronavirus pandemic has affected the whole country. But it has not affected everyone equally. People whose incomes were already precarious or low have found themselves tipped over the edge. Disabled people, women, families with children and people living in already disadvantaged areas have all been disproportionately affected.
202.The Department’s role in processing benefit claims has, understandably, taken centre stage. But its Ministers also have wide responsibilities for addressing poverty, for the Government’s strategy on disability issues, and for delivering support through the benefits system for disadvantaged groups. It must be able to demonstrate that its response to the coronavirus pandemic is contributing to those aims.
203.We recommend that-the Government commission an independent analysis and assessment of the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on levels of poverty and household debt. This should include an assessment of the impact on:
This work should include an analysis of the impact of the measures that DWP has taken so far, and of the likely impact of its future plans. It should address not only the impact on individuals and households, but also on local authorities and the voluntary sector.
204.We recommend that the Department monitor and publish data on job losses amongst people with protected characteristics, with a particular focus on disabled people. We also recommend that the Department launch a publicity campaign aimed at workers and employers, particularly emphasising how Access to Work can be used to support flexible working for disabled people.
236 Department for Work and Pensions,
237 House of Commons Library, , 29 April 2020
238 House of Commons Library, , 30 April 2020.
239 Written evidence, SWP0062. The survey referred to is based on a nationally representative sample of 2,000 people.
240 Institute for Fiscal Studies, 27 May 2020
241 Leonard Cheshire, , February 2019
242 Leonard Cheshire,
243 Shaw Trust (SWP0084)
244 Trades Union Congress, ,
245 Work and Pensions Committee, Tenth Report of Session 2017–19, , HC 673
246 Institute for Employment Studies, Labour Market Statistics, May 2020: , P6
247 , 15 May 2020
Published: 22 June 2020