Did the UK policy response to Covid-19 protect household incomes?

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

August 6, 2021


We analyse the UK policy response to Covid-19 and its impact on household incomes in the UK in April and May 2020, using microsimulation methods. We estimate that households lost a substantial share of their net income of 6.9% on average. But policies protected household incomes to a substantial degree: compared to the drop in net income, GDP per capita fell by 18.9% between the first and second quarter of 2020. Earnings subsidies (the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme) protected household finances and provided the main insurance mechanism during the crisis. Besides subsidies, Covid-related increases to state benefits, as well as the automatic stabilisers in the tax and benefit system, played an important role in mitigating the income losses. However, analysing the impact of a near-decade of austerity on the UK safety net, we find that, compared to 2011 policies, the 2020 pre-Covid tax-benefit policies would have been less effective in insuring incomes against the shocks. We also assess the potential distributional impact of introducing a Universal Basic Income (UBI) instead of the Covid emergency measures and find that a UBI would have supported the incomes of different vulnerable groups but would have provided less protection to those hit hardest by the labour market shocks.

Published in

Journal of Economic Inequality







This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.

Online Early

Open Access

Related Publications



Latest findings, new research

Publications search

Search all research by subject and author


Researchers discuss their findings and what they mean for society


Background and context, methods and data, aims and outputs


Conferences, seminars and workshops

Survey methodology

Specialist research, practice and study

Taking the long view

ISER's annual report


Key research themes and areas of interest