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University of Bath

How Low-income Families Experience and Manage Income Variability and Change (PhD project)

A PhD research project looking at how changes to income and circumstances affect low-income families.

About this research

Poverty in the UK has been increasing. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation reports that between 2008/9 and 2013/14, the number of people living in households with income below the Minimum Income Standard tripled. This research sets out to explore whether and how changes in income and circumstances impact on how families with low incomes cope and manage.

While historic and recent literature looks at how families budget on a low income, very few studies specifically look at variation, sources and periodicity of income and the related lived experience of changing circumstances and management of change. The central research questions are relevant to recent policy debate and change, particularly the introduction of Universal Credit but also to the changing and increasingly insecure economic and social context in which people live. Many low-income families face instability in the housing and labour markets as well as a benefit system that can be complicated and inflexible. There is also evidence from the administration of Tax Credits that claimants of means-tested benefits experience a great deal of change within a year period. This study will seek a better understanding of this change and how low-income families experience and manage change in income over time.

The research will take a qualitative longitudinal approach. The aim is to recruit 30 families, who will be asked to complete weekly income and expenditure diaries over a six-month period in order to establish variations in income, expenditure and circumstances. In-depth interviews will be conducted at the start and end of the diary period to focus on lived experience and how participants manage change. A pilot study is currently underway to test research instruments and to gather initial findings to inform the main phase of the research which is due to start in November 2017.

Project team

Selected key outputs

  • Conference: ‘How low-income families experience and manage income variability and change’, Department of Social and Policy Sciences postgraduate seminar, University of Bath, April 2017.
  • Network: Founder member of the Money, Security and Social Policy research network, launch event, LSE London, November 2017.