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

de Vries, Robert, Geiger, B., Scullion, Lisa, Summers, Kate, Edmiston, Daniel, Ingold, Jo, Robertshaw, David, Young, David (2023) Welfare attitudes in a crisis: How COVID exceptionalism undermined greater solidarity. Journal of Social Policy, . pp. 1-20. ISSN 0047-2794. (doi:10.1017/S0047279423000466) (KAR id:103112)


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
DOI/Identification number: 10.1017/S0047279423000466
Projects: Welfare at a Social Distance: Accessing social security and employment support during the COVID-19 crisis and its aftermath
Additional information: For the purpose of open access, the author has applied a CC BY public copyright licence to any Author Accepted Manuscript version arising.
Uncontrolled keywords: welfare attitudes, COVID-19, structural topic models, free-text responses
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research
Funders: Economic and Social Research Council (
Depositing User: Robert De Vries
Date Deposited: 04 Oct 2023 11:56 UTC
Last Modified: 27 Feb 2024 11:29 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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