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University of Bath

The Rise of In-Work Benefits? Comparing Provisions in Advanced Welfare States (PhD project)

A PhD research project examining the rise of policies that top up earned income through the tax benefit system, commonly referred to as ‘in-work benefits’.

About this research

This project explored the rise of policies that top up earned income through the tax benefit system, commonly referred to as ‘in-work benefits’. Focusing in particular on cross-national variation in policy types and design, the project analysed in-work provisions from a comparative perspective in light of a range of empirical, theory and policy driven concerns.

In-work benefits are not new in some countries. The US and the UK introduced earlier versions of their current in-work ‘tax credit’ policies in the mid-1970s. Although widely regarded as novel or irrelevant in many other countries, the past two decades has seen a shift, with more countries implementing their own in-work provisions. Yet, countries in-work benefits vary along numerous lines, including the type of ‘benefit’ in place (e.g. cash benefits, tax allowances, tax credits) and the levels or generosity of benefits, and the eligibility criteria. This leads to questions about the nature of these trends, the similarities and differences between countries, the reasons for, and implications of, the (diverse) growth of in-work provision.

The research maps cross-national in-work benefits trends in advanced welfare states and systematically compares provisions. Part of this involved the creation of an open access database of in-work benefit policies across advanced welfare states, comprising data on expenditure, take up and coverage, and other design elements from a number of secondary and primary sources, including policy documents, cross-national datasets and data obtained through a survey of ‘policy experts’ in the countries included. The project was written up as a series of papers relating to key themes, including precarious employment, gender, welfare regimes, welfare state reform, and different policy paradigms (e.g. social investment).

Project team

Joan Abbas, supervised by:

Selected key outputs

  • Placement: Joan was successful in an application to the University of Leuven’s Jos Berghman Welfare Studies Stipend, spending 2-3 months with Leuven’s Social Policy and Social Work research team at the University’s campus in Belgium.
  • Conference paper: Joan presented a paper on in-work benefits and non-standard and self-employment at the 2017 ESPAnet conference in Lisbon, Portugal. September 2017.
  • IPR blog: Working Hard or Hardly Working? Universal Credit and the problem of conditionality