Better off Working?: Work, poverty and benefit cycling

Funded by: Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Duration:

April 2008 to September 2009

PSI researchers:


Kathryn Ray

Sandra Vegeris

Background, summary and aims

Summary

Combating poverty through paid work has increasingly become a policy priority. However, paid work does not always lift individuals out of poverty and jobs are frequently not sustained, resulting in recurrent poverty. Little is known about the circumstances and decisions that lead to movements in and out of work (-benefit cycling') nor about the mechanisms that can effectively intervene. The proposed research examines the experiences of low-paid workers, exploring their journeys through work and benefits and their understandings of work, poverty and wellbeing.

Aims:

  • To develop a fuller and deeper understanding of the factors that influence both movements between benefits and work, and staying in work, for the low-paid and low-skilled;
  • To provide understanding of the supports that help to sustain low-paid and low-skilled workers through varied trajectories;
  • To understand what helps low-paid and low-skilled workers break out of recurrent poverty in a sustainable way.

Research Design

Using secondary quantitative and qualitative analyses and further qualitative fieldwork, the research will build on data from the Employment Retention and Advancement (ERA) Demonstration project, in an iterative four-stage design.

This will include:

  • Secondary analysis of ERA qualitative longitudinal data exploring the dynamics, and subjective understandings, of different work journeys over time;
  • Secondary analysis of ERA quantitative longitudinal survey data, examining factors associated with different journeys through work;
  • Primary qualitative interviews contrasting similar respondents who follow different work journeys to provide a deeper understanding of why and how their journeys differ; and
  • Policy and practice workshops for research participants and key policy stakeholders to encourage debate on the findings.

Evidence from the research will help to develop policy measures that can lift more people out of poverty in a sustainable way.