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Tackling in-work poverty by supporting dual-earning families

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Lawton, Kayte & Thompson, Spencer
Publication Date: 
1 Nov 2013


This research reviewed employment trends among couples with children, and examined four areas affecting their employment rate: family leave, childcare, the labour market and the tax and benefit system.

Key points:

  • The risk of poverty is greater for children in couple families with only one earner; sole-earner families comprised 30 per cent of families with children in poverty in 2011/12.
  • Although the share of sole-earner families has fallen considerably, around a quarter of couple families with children had only one earner in 2012.
  • Most non-working partners are mothers, with lower employment levels among mothers with pre-school children compared to those with school-age children.
  • Enabling more mothers to work would boost household incomes and help tackle in-work poverty.
  • Paid family leave allows parents to spend time with young children while protecting incomes, helps keep mothers in the labour market and increases fathers' involvement in family life.
  • However, family leave is badly paid in the UK and too short for fathers.
  • Childcare enables parents with young children to work, particularly mothers, but remains expensive for many low-income families.
  • Despite some improvements in the conditions of low-paid work, many mothers can only access poorly paid part-time jobs because of their childcare responsibilities.
  • Many fathers work long hours, making it harder for them to get involved in family life and more difficult for mothers in low-income families to work.
  • Universal Credit will raise incomes among many low-income couple families, but weaken work incentives for many second earners.
  • To enable both partners in more low-income families to work, the study recommends: allowing second earners to keep more income before withdrawing means-tested benefits; expanding publicly funded affordable childcare; and more generous family leave, including longer paternity leave.