What is the evidence of the impact of work-life balance or flexible-working initiatives on poverty?

Rationale

Work-life balance or flexible-working initiatives ('WLB initiatives' for short) have the potential to enable workers to combine paid work with care responsibilities or with managing a health condition. Thus, they could potentially enable more people to enter work, stay in work or to progress in work, with consequent links to poverty.

Evidence base

There is much literature on WLB initiatives, but little specifically on the impact on poverty or on the incomes/earnings of low-paid workers. The available evidence includes:

  • Evidence on the availability and take-up of flexible working (eg the Work Life Balance surveys), plus quantitative and qualitative findings on flexible working in practice.
  • Relationship between WLB policies and retention - Smeaton et al's (forthcoming 2013) review of evidence on the employer benefits of WLB practices found substantial evidence of a relationship with work retention. However, the quality of the evidence was relatively poor (mostly correlational and often based on employer perceptions of outcomes).
  • Robust evaluation of WLB initiatives is limited; the evaluations of the Work Life Balance Challenge Fund (Nelson et al, 2004) and the Quality Part-Time Work Fund (Lyonette et al, 2010) did not have measures of impact.
  • Impact of right-to-request legislation - Hegewisch (2009) and Smeaton et al (forthcoming 2013) review the effect on gender equality, including on take-up, the gender pay gap and flexibility in senior positions; both conclude that causal evidence is limited.
  • Effect of WLB on labour supply - Letablier et al (2009) review the evidence on the effectiveness of policies to support parenthood in Europe, but focus on state policies (family benefits, parental leave and childcare support) rather than flexible working. Del Boca et al (2009) looked at the impact of a range of policies, including part-time work opportunities, on mother's labour supply cross-nationally. Hurrell et al (2007) provided an estimate of the extent to which 'working below potential' is caused by a lack of flexible-working options, while Stewart et al (2012) provide an estimate of the extent to which growth in quality part-time work could lift mothers (currently out of work or working below potential) out of poverty.

Gaps

1. Are we missing any evidence which directly examines the relationship between WLB initiatives and poverty?

2. Are we missing any robust, causal evidence on the relationship between WLB initiatives and work entry (or labour supply), retention or progression for those likely to be subject to poverty (ie low-paid workers)?

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