LGB access to welfare benefits

In a post last month we considered LGB people’s housing situation, suggesting that the high proportion of LGB people living in private rented housing will mean they might be particularly affected by welfare reform, especially due to reduced Housing Benefit rates for younger people.

Since then, in the Autumn Statement, the UK Government has announced that most benefits will be uprated with inflation in April 2023 – an increase of 10.1 per cent. Given the years of freezes to benefits, justified by austerity, this is to be welcomed.

In this post we consider how often LGB access welfare benefits, to further explore this population’s risk and how much the uprating of benefits will help these people during the cost-of-living crisis.

In analysing benefit up-take among this population, like with most of this project, we encounter some tricky problems. The first is the overwhelming number of some populations that claim (almost) universal welfare benefits in the UK. The most obvious of these is the state pension, which nearly everyone over 65 or 66 receives. This means it is very difficult to do analysis of this older population, and for this reason our analysis is limited to working-age people (16-64). Another example, which is less universal, is Child Benefit. Although benefit changes in 2010 mean that higher-rate tax payers often do not claim this, its otherwise near universality for parents means that heterosexual women claim welfare benefits at a very high rate compared to the rest of the population.

A converse problem we face is that, although nearly everyone is likely to receive a welfare benefit at some point in their life, apart from these more universal benefits, at any one time the number of people of working-age claiming benefits, particularly benefits associated with unemployment, is quite low. Some benefits have incredibly low claimant numbers (you probably have not even heard of them) so doing any analysis with these is almost impossible.

To overcome this challenge, we firstly incorporated a suggestion of our project advisory board. Rather than analysing take-up of individual benefits, we packaged welfare benefits into “types”. These were: those related to work and unemployment (primarily Job Seekers Allowance and Universal Credit); those related to being a parent (primarily Child Benefit); and those related to disability and ill-health (primarily Personal Independence Payment, Employment and Support Allowance and Disability Benefit).

Changes to the welfare system over the past thirty years, in particular the growth of in-work benefits that support people in low-wage employment, make these distinctions a bit more complicated, but we will put this to one-side for now. The three categories make sense for our analysis as they cover the three main areas where the UK states supports people through cash-transfers during working age: when you are out-of-work; when you are disabled or ill and cannot work; or when you are caring for children.

For this initial analysis, we have again used Understanding Society data, and thus only have data on lesbians, gay men and bisexual men and women. However, the data also tracks the same households for over a decade through regular surveys. Therefore, to increase the numbers of benefits claims we could analyse, we used all the datapoints for these households over these years.

When we consider the three types of welfare benefits in our groups, we can hypothesise that LGB people are probably less likely to claim child-related benefits as they are less likely to be parents or carers; they might be more likely to claim disability-related payments due to poorer mental health; and it is difficult to predict levels of uptake of out-of-work benefits.

We can now look regression models to see if these hypotheses are correct. Firstly, across all our analysis we find that LGB people are less likely to claim benefits related to having children, except for bisexual women with partners, who are more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to claim these benefits, even when controlling for having children. This, largely, comes as no-surprise as same-sex couples are far less likely to have children.

In terms of disability benefits, when we consider all LGB people as a group, we find that they are more likely to have claimed these sorts of benefits, even when we include controls for being disabled or for having a long-term illness. When we carry out modelling separating people out by gender, we find that bisexual women in particular, are more likely to claim disability-related benefits than their heterosexual counterparts. This parallels earlier research, by project member Dr Samuel Mann, that found lower wellbeing among bisexuals. Although our analysis does control for long-term illness and disability, so there is an unexplained factor which means that even though bisexuals are more likely to experience poor wellbeing, they are also more likely to claim disability-related benefits.

Across the modelling, we do find that gay and bisexual men are more likely to claim work-related benefits than their heterosexual counterparts. This is fascinating, as it immediately challenges “pink pound” narratives and the idea that gay men have higher disposable incomes due to not having children. It might be partly explained by occupational segregation – that is, the choice of jobs that gay and bisexual men make, which may be linked to their sexual identity. For example, these men may be more likely to work in the arts, cultural industries, leisure and retail, which are also known for insecure or temporary employment.

From our analysis, then, we can suggest that LGB people will benefit from the 10.1% uplift in welfare benefits in April 2023 as they are more likely to claim some benefits than heterosexual people. However, the Autumn Statement also announced that the DWP would redouble their efforts to tackle “fraud”* and push people back into work. In the qualitative work package, we are hearing of how awful the conditionality regime of the contemporary welfare benefits system is for everyone. Many of our participants lived in fear of their benefits being cut through punitive sanctions, and many had also had sudden drops in their income plunging them into destitution because of sanctions.

In conclusion, while the increase in benefits during the cost-of-living crisis is welcomed, we need much broader changes to our welfare benefits system in the UK if it is to be a safety net preventing all people from experiencing destitution.

* we have put fraud in inverted commas, as it is a truism in UK Social Policy research that the “fraud” figures the DWP publish include administrative errors leading to overpayment cause by the Department itself. The amount of benefits claimed fraudulently is a tiny proportion of the overall figure and not the problem the government claim it to be.

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