21st Century welfare and the working poor

Presented by ANU College of Asia & the Pacific

Ensuring adequate incomes for poor working families is a key policy challenge in many countries. The growth of low-paid and part-time work, sometimes in circumstances of unstable or temporary employment, has increased inequalities in work and means that for many people wages alone are not enough to keep the family at an adequate standard of living. This is particularly true if there is only one potential earner in the family, and so in many countries it is lone mothers and couples with pre-school age children who are particularly likely to face financial hardship.

The development of in-work wage supplements has been an important policy response, and in the UK chosen route has included the extension of a system of means-tested 'tax credits', intended not only to support people to move into employment but also to help to sustain work, and even to progress within work to higher wages or longer work hours. Policy attention is therefore increasingly focussed not just on what is needed to help non-employed people get jobs, but also on what helps people who have jobs to keep them and improve their situations in work.

This lecture will explore these issues drawing on an in-depth study of 15 British families, over a period of about 15 years. This is a unique data set. Survey panel data is able to map employment trajectories and analyse the risk factors associated with different patterns and outcomes. Our qualitative research complements this by providing insights into motivations, attitudes and choices, exploring how people respond to changes, opportunities and constraints. The lecture will set this material in the wider policy context, in the UK and other countries, and explore the ongoing tensions between austerity and social investment.

Jane Millar, Professor of Social Policy with research interests in social security and family policy, lone parents, employment and poverty. Jane studied social psychology at the University of Sussex and worked in health and social care before returning to academic study to focus on social security policy. She was a researcher in the Department of Health and Social Security and then completed her doctorate in social policy at the University of York. Her first lectureship was at the University of Ulster and she came to the University of Bath as a lecturer in social policy in 1988.Jane was awarded an OBE in 2001 for 'services to social policy research and teaching'. She is a Fellow of the British Academy and of the Academy of Social Sciences.

Jane is elected chair of the Social Policy Association, chair of the nominations committee of the Academy of Social Sciences, and chair of one of the three inter-disciplinary Grant Assessment Panels of the Economic and Social Research Council. She is a Trustee of Lankelly Chase, which supports work to improve the lives of the people currently most disadvantaged in our society, and of First Steps, a local Bath charity and social enterprise that provides Sure Start Childrens' Centres and nurseries. Jane was Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) at the University of Bath 2008 to 2015.

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