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How to understand the benefits data landscape

Local Insight contains a number of benefits data indicators from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). These indicators are useful for understanding labour market activity and vulnerable groups in your areas.

This blog will inform you of the changing landscape, such as the move to Universal Credit, so that you can use these datasets with confidence. We also provide recommendations for which benefits data indicators to use in Local Insight for different topics.

Read on to find out about:

The rollout of Universal Credit

In the early 2010s, the DWP began a major reform of the benefits system, moving away from multiple benefits payable to people with different needs towards a single benefit – Universal Credit (UC). 

The full-service rollout was completed in 2018. However, the managed migration of existing benefit claimants was delayed by the pandemic and is incomplete. As a result, some people are still receiving the benefits that preceded UC, sometimes referred to as ‘legacy benefits’. This includes Jobseekers Allowance (JSA). As this affects those that have been claiming Job Seekers Allowance on a long-term basis, using UC alone may exclude many long-term unemployed from the figures. Migration is uneven across different parts of the country. The House of Commons Library regularly releases data on how far the rollout has progressed

As a result of the ongoing migration to UC, it can be difficult to know which DWP indicators to use. For example, looking solely at people in receipt of UC may miss groups of people who are still on the legacy benefits. To mitigate this, Local Insight includes a number of indicators that contain benefits data combinations to cover people on legacy benefits as well as those receiving UC. This includes the below indicators: 

  • Unemployment Benefit (JSA and Universal Credit)
  • Working Age Benefit Claimants (Benefit Combinations)
  • Claiming out of Work Benefits (Benefits Combination)
  • People receiving Disability Benefits [This is a derived indicator created by OCSI]
  • People of Pensionable Age Claiming DWP Benefits (Benefits Combinations)

Recommended indicators to use

Unemployment Benefit (JSA and Universal Credit)

This indicator gives the most comprehensive figures at a local level of those that are currently unemployed. You may also see this referred to simply as the ‘claimant count’.  This figure is a combination of JSA claimants and a subset of Universal Credit claimants, which covers those that are required to seek work and be available for work.

Local Insight also contains a subset of this indicator that shows Youth unemployment (18-24 receiving JSA or Universal Credit).

How often it’s updated: Monthly 

Working Age Benefit Claimants (Benefit Combinations)

This indicator shows the proportion of people of working age receiving DWP benefits. In this dataset, the working age is defined as people aged 16-64 (this is the denominator that the DWP uses).

Working age DWP Benefits are benefits payable to all people of working age (16-64) who need additional financial support due to low income, worklessness, poor health, caring responsibilities, bereavement or disability. 

How often it’s updated: Quarterly

Claiming out of work benefits (Benefit Combinations)

This shows the total benefit combinations for individuals that claim Out of Work benefits. Out of work benefits are defined as being on at least one of the following benefits: Jobseekers Allowance (JSA), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Incapacity Benefit (IB), Severe Disablement Allowance (SDA), Income Support (IS) where Carers Allowance (CA) not also in payment, Pension Credit (PC) where Carers Allowance (CA) and Universal Credit (UC) conditionality regime is one of Searching for Work, Preparing for Work or Planning for Work. 

How often it’s updated: Quarterly

People of Pensionable Age Claiming DWP Benefits (Benefit Combinations)

Shows the total benefit combinations for State Pension Age individuals. The benefit combinations shown in these statistics do not cover every possible combination. This does not include those that claim State Pension Only. Currently, this indicator uses 65 as the State Pension Age, this is set by the DWP. 

How often it’s updated: Quarterly

People receiving Disability Benefits 

The previous indicators are all published directly by DWP. The People receiving Disability Benefits indicator is a derived indicator created by our Research Team at OCSI.  It combines people receiving the legacy Disability Living Allowance benefit with the new style Personal Independence Payment (PIP).  

How often it’s updated: Annually

The advantages of these indicators 

This suite of benefits data combination indicators is useful for a number of reasons:

  • They are published at a small area level (LSOA) so you can see how your local areas fare on these indicators.
  • They are updated frequently by DWP and in turn by us in Local Insight so you know you are looking at relevant data.
  • They are from a robust data sample. 

Viewing change over time for unemployment


You can view trend data for unemployment within the reports, both in the Summary Report [Subscription only link] and through creating a custom report [Subscription only link] using the Economy (unemployment and wider worklessness) theme.

You can download the underlying data for the timeseries from the interactive HTML report.

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