Least well-off get the most Covid help

Linda J. Dodson

Chancellors have not always been keen on the detailed scrutiny of who wins and loses as a result of the decisions they take. 

The most notable recent example was George Osborne. He scrapped the Treasury’s distributional analysis traditionally accompanying Budgets due to the inconvenient fact that his planned tax credit reforms would hit the poorest hardest. Osborne left it to the Institute for Fiscal Studies to deliver the bad news.

Under pressure from the Treasury Select Committee, the distributional analysis was restored in 2016 when Philip Hammond took the reins.

For Rishi Sunak, the current Chancellor, the Treasury’s breakdown of the impact of Covid-19 on households ranked by wealth underscores the more politically helpful message that the poorest households have been the biggest beneficiaries of the massive economic support unleashed since March.

While working households overall are £67 a week worse off since February due to lost earnings under the furlough, the poorest tenth are £12 better off thanks to the temporary increase in universal credit by £20 a week and a similar rise in working tax credits, alongside the furlough scheme and self-employed support. 

This is less generous than the US, which shunned a furlough scheme but has opted to top up benefits by a flat $600 a week. That largesse means that a fifth are actually receiving benefits twice the size of their lost earnings.

But for the UK’s poorest, the measures have more than mitigated actual job losses as well as the Treasury modelling of the likely employment carnage that would have occurred without the job retention scheme. 

At the top of the tree, the richest 10pc have meanwhile taken the biggest knock to their weekly incomes in both percentage and cash terms, at 14pc and £255 respectively. Overall, the Treasury suggests that its support schemes have been worth around a fifth of average weekly incomes. 

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