Housing and Work Incentives

In a time of austerity and dramatic welfare reform, there is much policy interest in work incentives, taking people off benefits and ‘making work pay’. This project seeks to contribute to that debate by examining the role housing plays towards either incentivising or creating barriers to work and also the quality and nature of work that people take. The project involves an evidence review, economic modelling of work incentives and their drivers, and four deep qualitative case studies in contrasting labour market contexts. When complete, the research will contribute to debates about welfare reform, decisions to work or not and the contribution housing decisions and costs can make to alleviating both worklessness and in-work poverty.


For more than a decade, governments have promoted employment as being the best route out of poverty, combining incentives to ‘make work pay’ with an increasing use of sanctions. However, increasing evidence of in-work poverty emphasises the need to address the quality of work and the efficiency with which we match local people to local jobs and thereby improve labour market positioning. Research on work-incentives has focused on financial incentives but housing is also relevant. Different dimensions of housing matter: its heterogeneity, spatial fixity, tenure, neighbourhood effects, quality and standards issues, as well as explicit financial effects - all combine to influence work incentives.


Located within the wider Joseph Rowntree Foundation Housing and Poverty Programme, the aim of the project is, through real life examples, to identify how housing policy and practice can more effectively support out-of-work households into work and in-work households in poverty, into better work. It will identify housing circumstances that are barriers or enablers to employment and betterment. The project is best understood in a dynamic context, reflecting the simultaneous changes to welfare benefits, the shifting wider labour market and housing system, and the fact that these changes affect groups differentially.


We propose a four part mixed methods research design:

  1. A substantial UK and international evidence review of work incentives, the role of housing, benefits and housing-led employment initiatives.
  2. Modelling of the drivers of work incentives (including housing factors) using a matched panel of successive waves of the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) linked to the three waves of Understanding Society (UKHLS) and relevant extraneous variables.
  3. Four deep place-based qualitative case studies each incorporating a focus group of housing and employment/welfare rights professionals, in-depth interviews with a range of individuals confronting different decision-making circumstances, and examination of housing-linked employment innovative.
  4. Synthesis and analysis of the secondary and primary research elements.


  • Prof Kenneth D Gibb (Urban Studies, University of Glasgow)
  • Professor Sharon Wright (Urban Studies, University of Glasgow)
  • Prof Mark Stephens (Heriot Watt University)
  • Dr Darja Reuschke (University of St Andrews)
  • Dr Kirsten Besemer (Heriot Watt university)
  • Dr Filip Sosenko (Heriot Watt University)

Project dates

January 2014 to December 2014


Joseph Rowntree Foundation (£70,000)