Employment, pay and poverty: evidence and policy review

Funded by: Joseph Rowntree Foundation


March 2013 to November 2013


Paul Sissons at The Work Foundation

PSI researchers:

Kathryn Ray

Sandra Vegeris

Kim Vowden

Rosemary Davidson

Background, summary and aims

Background, scope and aims

The review focuses on the links between employment and poverty. Employment has a well-established relationship with poverty, and government policy over the past 15 years has emphasised paid work as the best route out of poverty. However, the relationship between poverty and employment is not straightforward, because:

  1. while employment participation is an individual characteristic, poverty is most commonly measured at the household level; and
  2. characteristics of employment, such as pay, hours and security, have a bearing on the ability of work to move households out of poverty.

The project aims to:

  1. review the evidence on the links between employment, pay and poverty in the UK and internationally;
  2. review evidence on the effects of relevant policy and practice interventions to address poverty;
  3. identify a range of options for policy and practice;
  4. identify gaps in the evidence.

Project design

Stage 1 will examine how employment participation and the characteristics of work relate to poverty in the UK; how this has changed over time; and how it differs cross-nationally.

Stage 2 will assess the evidence on employment-related policy and practice interventions to address poverty. The review will examine:

  • the range and strength of the impacts observed;
  • the reasons for (non)impacts;
  • the relative effects of -supply' v -demand' side interventions;
  • the range of direct and indirect poverty outcomes measured;
  • the extent and quality of the cost evidence; and
  • gaps in the evidence base.

Evidence from the review will be taken forward to a policy workshop to test how the evidence fits within different policy/practice contexts and to help build recommendations for JRF's anti-poverty strategy.

Importance of research

Poverty is one of the most intractable problems facing the UK. The last government had an ambitious aim of halving child poverty by 2010. In the event, it was cut only by a third and poverty levels are now again on the rise. In particular, the limits to promoting paid work as a solution to poverty are now increasingly apparent as the share of -in-work poverty' has been rising. The project is one of seven evidence and policy reviews commissioned by the JRF as part of their programme to develop an evidenced, all-age strategy to reduce poverty across the UK.