Skip to main content
University of Bath

Managing insecurity and change: Low-income households with means-tested social security benefits

A PhD research project that aims to understand the nature and implications of short-term income change and insecurity for low-income households.

About this research

Financial insecurity in the UK is gaining increased attention as it becomes clearer snap-shot yearly income measures do not tell the full story of low income. As well as income inadequacy, families on low income must also manage and cope with income instability and the constraints this has on their lives. This research focuses on the experience and management of short-term income change by following families over time.

Income and poverty dynamics literature tells us that rather than a static yearly income, for many people household income changes from year to year and for some, this means movements in and out of poverty. A smaller number of other studies have looked at income change in shorter periods than a year and found that those on the lowest incomes experience the most change. However, little attention has been paid to the experience and management of this short-term income change over time and how it shapes the coping strategies of low-income families.

This research takes a qualitative longitudinal approach to focus on the experience, financial management and coping strategies of fifteen means-tested benefit claimants over periods of up to four months. It uses financial diaries and repeated qualitative interviews to both track income and expenditure and record the detail and nuance of experience over time.

The findings reveal the importance of the adequacy, stability and timing of income from work and from social security benefits and highlight the unequal financial and relational support available to participants. This combination of income inadequacy and instability shapes the management and coping strategies that are available and adopted within the sample to get by. The research seeks to place a conception of income change at the heart of our understanding of the experience of means-tested benefit claimants and reflects on how the social security system can best address both income inadequacy and instability.

Project team

Selected key outputs

Peer reviewed journal articles

  • Summers, K. and Young, D. (2020) Universal simplicity? The alleged simplicity of Universal Credit from administrative and claimant perspectives, Journal of Poverty and Social Justice

Blogs

Presentations

  • 'Managing insecurity and change', Money Security and Social Policy workshop, University of Bath (22 November, 2019)
  • 'Universal Credit: Security and volatility', Social Policy Association conference, University of Durham (10 July, 2019)
  • 'Universal simplicity? The alleged simplicity of Universal Credit from administrative and claimant perspectives', with Dr Kate Summers, Social Policy Association conference, University of Durham (9 July, 2019)
  • 'Universal simplicity? The alleged simplicity of Universal Credit from administrative and claimant perspectives', with Dr Kate Summers, Foundation for International Studies on Social Security (FISS) conference, Sigtuna, Sweden (10 June, 2019)
  • 'Relationships and income change: How means-tested benefit claimants draw on friendship and family relationships to smooth income and cope', Who cares workshop, Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain (7 February, 2019)
  • 'Income security and income change: Defining insecurity in a study of means-tested benefit claimants in the UK', New Directions in Welfare State Reform conference, Yonsei University, Seoul, South Korea (8 November, 2018)
  • 'Low Incomes and Change: Managing Instability', Social Policy Association conference, University of York (13 July, 2018)
  • 'Low Incomes and Change: Managing Instability', Money, Security and Social Policy event, University of Salford (15 June, 2018)
  • 'Low Incomes and Change: Managing Instability', Money, Security and Social Policy event, KU Leuven, Belgium (19 April, 2018)
  • 'How low-income families experience and manage income variability and change’, Money, Security and Social Policy launch event, LSE (2 November 2017)
  • ‘How low-income families experience and manage income variability and change’, Department of Social and Policy Sciences postgraduate seminar, University of Bath (April, 2017)
  • Founder member of the Money, Security and Social Policy research network, launch event, LSE (November, 2017)