Evidence LibrarySystematic reviewsIn-work poverty
In-work poverty: a systematic review

What do we want to know?

The overall aims of the research were to produce findings to inform policy in relation to the reduction of in-work poverty among families with dependent children and highlight gaps in the research in this area that might be filled by future research.

Who wants to know?

The Department for Work and Pensions commissioned this review to inform its policy.

What did we find?

The 18 included studies were all retrospective quantitative evaluations; four studies were judged to provide an overall medium weight of evidence and the remaining 14 studies were graded low/medium overall. All the studies evaluated financial interventions available only to those in employmentand evaluated the impact of changes (real or hypothetical) to the tax and/or benefit system. Despite differences in specific mechanisms, the main focus of the interventions was on providing greater financial return from paid employment, than from the system to which they were compared. They measured alternative (proxy) outcomes which, in our view, have the potential to reduce in-work poverty: wages/household income; employment participation; or working hours. One study measured the impact on household income following behavioural responses to a financial intervention. An increase in income was found. Two studies measured the impact on wage growth and reported different findings. Eight studies informed us about the effect of financial interventions on the overall employment participation of second earners (i.e. taking into consideration both male and female second earners). Six studies found a net reduction in participation and two studies found a net increase. Eight studies informed us about the effect of financial interventions on the overall working hours of couple families. Six studies found a net decrease in working hours and two studies found a net positive effect.

The overall conclusion was that the studies did not provide a conclusive answer to the policy question about effective solutions to in-work poverty, and more research is urgently needed.

How did we get the results?

The systematic review was conducted in two stages. The first stage described the research that has been undertaken on the barriers to, and facilitators of reducing in-work poverty in families with dependent children. Stage two of the review involved a synthesis of a subset of 18 studies, focusing on the effectiveness of interventions with the potential to reduce working poverty in two-parent families.

This report should be cited as:

Tripney J, Newman M, Bangpan M, Hempel-Jorgensen A, Mackintosh , Tucker H, Sinclair J (2009) In-work poverty: a systematic review. London: Department for Work and Pensions.


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