Accessibility statement

COVID realities: families on low incomes during the pandemic

Researchers: Dr Ruth Patrick (Principal Investigator), Lecturer, School for Business and Society, University of York
Co-Investigators: Dr Kayleigh Garthwaite, Department of Social Policy, Sociology and Criminology, University of Birmingham, Dr Maddy Power, Department of Health Sciences, University of York, and Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)
Funder: Nuffield Foundation 
Duration: April 2020 to September 2021    


The COVID-19 pandemic will affect us all, but in markedly different ways. It is likely that the pandemic will expose and extend existing inequalities, creating significant new forms of vulnerabilities and hardship. 


The project will focus on understanding how families in poverty navigate this crisis, while also tracking how the social security system responds. 


The project has three main strands: 

  • Firstly, it will draw on evidence from welfare rights advisers to understand how the social security system (and individuals reliant upon it) responds to COVID-19. By working with the Child Poverty Actions Group's (CPAG) Early Warning System (a database of contact from welfare rights advisers) the project will generate data immediately.
  • Secondly, it will collate data from ongoing research studies to explore how families in poverty are experiencing COVID-19 and to provide a dedicated space for researchers to consider how best to conduct research ethically and with sensitivity. 
  • Thirdly, the project will support families in poverty to document their experiences of COVID-19. A focus on documenting lived experiences of poverty during this crisis is especially important because in an era of big data and hard social distancing, there is an associated risk that the lived experiences of those who are suffering the immediate and medium-term aftershocks of the outbreak are overlooked.

Policy and practice aims

Overall, the project will illuminate the experiences of families in poverty during an unprecedented time; influence the evolving policy response; generate insight into how social security policy making in the UK changes, and is changed, by COVID-19. 

Please contact Dr Ruth Patrick for more information.

Associated Research   

Covid Realities
The project website where parents and carers can share their experiences of getting by on a low income. 

For further information and to get involved, please visit the website here

Needs and entitlements:
how UK welfare reform affects larger families

What is the impact of benefit changes, such as the two-child limit and the benefits cap, on families with two or more children?

Find out more about this research project here

Related links   

The Covid Realities research programme was launched on 24th January 2022 and included the following information:

• Read the Covid Realities final report
• The Child Poverty Action Group blog shares five key learnings from the Covid Realities project. 
• Watch the recording of the Covid Realities programme webinar on YouTube and read the presentation slides: Our participatory approach (PDF , 6,258kb) and COVID-19 and low-income families (PDF , 432kb).
• Books to be published by Policy Press: A Year Like No Other and Covid Collaborations.