About 300,000 British people without jobs or on very low wages are not claiming benefits they are entitled to, according to a thinktank study urging the government to focus more attention on the issue.
The report from the Resolution Foundation says the “forgotten unemployed” are disproportionately likely to be older women or young men, who are missing out on at least £73 a week and potentially far more.
While many appear not to claim benefits because they have other means of support – for example living with a partner in work or with parents – the report warns that some people, particularly women, are put off by a benefits system viewed as complex and overly punitive.
The report, titled Falling Through the Cracks, urges the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to do more to examine the reasons why so many eligible people do not claim, arguing that the rollout of universal credit would be a good moment for this.
The study says that while the bulk of the group not claiming benefits they are entitled to have no work at all, a significant minority do work, but for sufficiently few hours that they could still claim jobseeker’s allowance or, where it is in use, universal credit, which replaces a series of existing benefits.
The Resolution Foundation says the issue exists in part because of a lack of attention paid by all governments from the late 1990s onwards to a growing gap between the number of workless people and those claiming benefits.
Currently, under the International Labour Organisation’s definition of unemployment – someone actively seeking work in the past four weeks or available to work if a job became available in the next two – there are 1.5 million jobless adults in Britain, against 800,000 who claim benefits for this.
Much of this wider gap is due to people moving between jobs too rapidly to claim benefits, or having other sources of income that mean they do not qualify. But the report calculates that about 300,000 of them are missing out on benefits to which they are entitled.
Arguing that the extent of the problem cannot be understood unless it is monitored and analysed, the report calls for the rollout of universal credit to be used as a chance to examine the claimant gap.
As part of this, the Resolution Foundation says the Office for National Statistics should create a measure for people eligible for such benefits who miss out on support.
David Finch, senior economic analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said the claimant gap had been growing over the past 20 years. “Policymakers have generally been pretty relaxed about this gap, assuming that is largely due to people finding new work very quickly, or having other sources of financial support at home,” he said.
“But while there are good reasons for some people not to claim benefits, there are also around 300,000 forgotten unemployed people who are falling through the cracks and not getting the financial support that they need and are entitled to.”
A DWP spokesman said: “Anyone who believes they’re entitled to out-of-work benefits should contact Jobcentre Plus – online, over the phone or by visiting their local branch. Our dedicated advisers and work coaches are on hand to help people claim what they are entitled to, and can signpost to other support options available.”