Tracking living standards over time: lessons learned

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Policy in Practice is tracking the changing living standards on more than 444,000 low income households across London. By combining housing benefit and council tax support data from 14 London boroughs, captured on a monthly basis over two years, we can track the impact of welfare reforms and rising rents for over one million people.

We aim to identify the characteristics of households in poverty over two years, revealing why some are able to escape but others aren’t.

The analysis uses council’s anonymised benefits data to track income, employment and poverty for low-income households over time. This approach captures the dynamics effects of changes in policy at the national as well as at the local level, allowing policy makers to ask a whole different set of questions.

Seven months after the official launch of the project, Policy in Practice is delighted to present our Phase one findings.

Download findings

Phase One: headline findings

  • Outer London boroughs are more heavily impacted by welfare reform
  • Effective measures of living standards should take needs into account
  • Tracking employment patterns shows disability to be the greatest barrier to work
  • The benefit cap disproportionally affects households in temporary accommodation

The ability to track half a million families over the course of 13 months finds that:

  • Poverty is not static: 28% of households moved into or out of the low-income demographic
  • Progression in work is key: 83% of households work fewer than 35 hours per week, the average is 25, and four in five households in work earn below the London Living wage
  • Disability is the greatest barrier to finding work in London: Just 2% of unemployed disabled households in the cohort found a job
  • Households affected by the benefit cap are 3 times more likely to be in temporary accommodation, and therefore at increased risk of homelessness
  • More households have low financial resilience than are in poverty, and they are three times more likely to have lost £30 / week or more due to welfare reform

Next Steps

As the project progresses to phase two, Policy in Practice has begun to collect additional data from participating boroughs, and are delighted to say a number of other councils have agreed to join. The next phase of analysis will investigate the following questions:

  • Is the benefit cap pushing affected households into work or driving up the demand for high cost temporary accommodation?
  • How have living standards changed over the past two years, and what are the drivers behind low financial resilience?
  • How will future policy changes like Universal Credit, the benefits freeze and the Living Wage have on the prospects of low-income Londoners?

A wider strategic purpose

Pooling data on low income residents across 14 London boroughs is no small achievement, and we wish to thank the London Boroughs already taking part for their support. This project shows that legal and technical barriers around data-sharing can be overcome, laying the foundations for future collaboration among the main actors involved in the provision of local welfare services in the capital.

This approach allows policymakers to ask a different set of questions. Itpresents a dynamic picture in which local and national policies interact, complement, duplicate or detract from one another and enables policymakers to see the causal links between policy, living standards and employment. We hope this research contributes to the ability to act proactively, systematically benchmark performance across neighbourhoods, and understand the causal links between policy, intervention and outcomes.

Phase Two: focus and next steps

We will release a series of shorter publications on a six-weekly basis following this initial report as the project continues to analyse longitudinal data throughout 2017 and early 2018.

We look forward to welcoming more local authorities to the project over the coming months as we progress to Phase Two. We will be collecting the next wave of Housing Benefit and council tax support data, from February to July 2017, at the end of July and are contacting existing project participants now.

If you want to take part to add to the richness of the analysis, see where you stand amongst your peers or simply contribute your ideas to the research and our short publications we would love to hear from you.

Get involved now

We’re now contacting existing project members for Phase two’s data. To join the project, ask a question or simply find out more please submit your details below.


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