The Programme of Research on Low-income Families (PRILIF)


January 1991 to September 2003

PSI researchers:

Alan Marsh

Sandra Vegeris

Background, summary and aims

In 1991 PSI carried out for the Department of Social Security a survey of 2300 of Britain’s low income families with dependent children. Low income was defined as being out of work, or being in work with an income below the point at which the family’s entitlement to Family Credit ran out, plus 25 per cent. This captured the lowest quarter of the income range among couples and nearly all the lone parents. The few better-off lone parents were added to make up a nationally representative sample of lone parents.

This survey provided the first comprehensive study of the way in which families with children experience the benefit system and how it impacts on their incentives to get and keep paid work (Marsh and McKay 1993 and McKay and Marsh 1995). The findings tended to strengthen a case for policies aimed to ‘make work pay’ even though for some families, particularly the lowest-paid couples, cash incentives and gains in living standards were small.

The 1991 survey also provided the basis for a series of follow-up studies, both re-interviewing the 1991 families and carrying out replication studies with new samples:

  • Lone parents: new cross-section studies were carried out in 1993 and 1994 (Ford, Marsh and Mckay, 1995, Marsh, Ford and Finlayson 1998, Finlayson and Marsh 1999)
  • The Lone Parent Cohort Study re-interviewed the 1991 respondents in 1993, 94, 95, 96 and 1998 (Ford, Marsh and Finlayson 1996, Finlayson, Ford, Marsh, McKay and Mukherjee, forthcoming)
  • Follow-up studies of eligible non-claimants of Family Credit (McKay and Marsh, 1995)
  • A survey of families leaving Family Credit in 1993 (Bryson and Marsh, 1995)
  • The Lone Parent Cohort and their children re-interviewed 1991 parents and children age 11 and up

The new studies of lone parents added to understanding of the role of child support payments, of how families re-form, returns to work and the role of poor health as a barrier to work. The studies of families leaving Family credit showed how in-work benefits helped unemployed lone parents enter and remain in work while helping employed couples remain in work and avoid unemployment.

Most of these data are now available from the Essex Data Archive and full technical details are available from the Archive’s website.