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University of Bath

Couples balancing work, money and care: exploring the shifting landscape under Universal Credit

This ESRC project examined the ways couples make decisions about work, care and household finances in relation to changes under Universal Credit.

Couples balancing work, money and care
Couples balancing work, money and care

About the project

The aim of this ESRC-funded research was to examine the ways in which couples with and without children make decisions about work and care and manage their household finances in the context of claiming Universal Credit. This involved:

  • Collecting new, qualitative longitudinal data on work/care decisions; intra-household financial management and distribution; and gender roles and relations in couple families with dependent children.
  • Contributing to the literature on employment and care decision-making processes, gender, and strategies for paid and unpaid work and budgeting in low-income households.
  • Exploring the policy implications of the findings in relation to Universal Credit, working-age benefits and work-family reconciliation policies more widely, providing insight into the ways in which policies support or undermine choice and gender equality in work, care and couple relationships.

This was a three- year longitudinal, qualitative research study based on a sample of couples and former couples claiming Universal Credit. During the first phase of research (June 2018 to January 2019), 123 face-to-face interviews were conducted with 90 participants in 53 households across four areas of England and Scotland. A second phase of follow-up interviews, which took place in September and October 2020 with 63 of the 90 participants, explored how the couples and their families had fared in the intervening two years, and in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Project team

Research team

Advisory group

  • Ingun Borg, Department for Work and Pensions
  • David Finch, Resolution Foundation and Health Foundation
  • Alison Garnham, Child Poverty Action Group
  • Dr Jackie Goode, Loughborough University
  • Marilyn Howard, University of Bristol
  • Julie Jarman, Equality and Human Rights Commission
  • Megan Jarvie, Coram Family and Childcare
  • Professor Nick Pearce, IPR, University of Bath
  • Professor Roy Sainsbury, University of York
  • Maria Strudwick, Department for Work and Pensions
  • Dr Sharon Wright, University of Glasgow


ESRC (ES/R004811/1)