Claimant count and the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown: who has been affected?

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The number of people claiming work-related benefits in Scotland increased by 74,000 between March and April 2020. To put this into context, the average increase between March and April for the past three years was 1,200.

The “claimant count” is a measure of the number of people claiming benefits principally for the reason of being unemployed, based on administrative data from the benefits system. This is people who claim Universal Credit who are required to search for work. This blog looks at the claimant count figures for Scotland for March and April 2020 by sex, age and deprivation.

What claimant data have we used?

We have used the “not seasonally adjusted” figures for claimant count from nomis. This means there has been no processing of the data to account for variations due to the time of year, otherwise known as a seasonal effect. This data is available at a more detailed level than the seasonally adjusted data. The March data was collected on 12 March and the April data on 9 April.

It is important to note that the claimant count does not attempt to measure unemployment. However, since people claiming benefits are generally a subset of the unemployed, the claimant count can provide a useful indication of how unemployment is likely to vary between areas and over time.

What is deprivation?

The Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) splits Scotland into 6,976 small areas known as “data zones”. These are then ranked using data relating to around 30 indicators, which help measure different aspects of deprivation. Rankings give us an understanding of where each area in Scotland sits in terms of deprivation.

It is important to understand that “deprived” does not necessarily mean “poor” or “low income”. It means people have fewer resources and opportunities, for example in health and education. Also, not everyone living in a deprived area is experiencing deprivation – the indicators give us a sense of the average experience of people in each area. The SIMD 2020: the where of deprivation blog explores more on data zones by Scottish Parliamentary constituency.

So, what does the deprivation breakdown tell us?

We have combined all data zones in Scotland into five equal sections, or quintiles, by their overall SIMD rank. Looking at the data this way shows that the number of people claiming Universal Credit, who are required to search for work, has increased the most in the most deprived quintile. Conversely, the least deprived quintile has seen the smallest increase.

However, if we look at it in relative terms, the pattern reverses with the least deprived quintile seeing the largest proportional increase of claimants.  This is because the least deprived quintiles are starting from a lower number of claimants.

We can also look at the percentage of the working age population in these quintiles who are claiming Universal Credit, who are required to search for work. This is the official measure when calculating rates below national/regional level.

The most deprived quintile have the highest claimant rates and also the largest percentage point increase. The least deprived quintile has the lowest rate and the smallest percentage point increase.

How does this look broken down by sex and age?

The data allows us to present a breakdown by age, sex and deprivation. These rates are calculated as a proportion of those claiming Universal Credit, who are required to search for work, for the specified group. For example, we can look at data for women aged 16-24 in the most deprived areas.  Some points to note from this analysis:

  • In general men have higher claimant rates that women. The differences are larger in the most deprived quintile – here the rate for men aged 25-49 is almost double that of women, 15.8% compared to 8.1%.
  • The largest increases for men are in the 25 to 49 group, with the two most deprived quintiles seeing increases of 5.0 and 4.0 percentage points respectively.
  • Women aged 16-24 in the most deprived quintile have the highest rate at 8.9%. They also have the largest increase for women (3.0 percentage points).


This analysis shows that the most deprived quintile has been the hardest hit from the unprecedented increase in the number of people claiming unemployment related benefits between March and April 2020. However, while this gives an overview of the increase by quintiles, there will be variation across the individual areas within each quintile with some more affected than others.

Andrew Aiton, Data Visualisation Manager