For better or for worse: does the UK means-tested social security system encourage partnership dissolution?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Unemployed and low-income couples entitled to means-tested benefits are known to have higher rates of separation and divorce than couples in which one or both partners are in regular, paid work. However, how and why unemployment and benefit receipt increases the risk of partnership dissolution remains the subject of much debate. In recent policy discourse, financial differentials in benefit entitlement between lone and couple parents are said to encourage intact couples to separate. Based on in-depth, face-to-face interviews with a group of lone mothers who had been partnered prior to claiming lone parent benefits, this paper explores whether benefit entitlement or receipt influenced the decision to separate or divorce. The research found that more salient to partnership dissolution than the monetary value of benefits, was who had access to the money, how it was managed and how it was spent. To the extent that welfare systems influence which member of a couple has access to household income, the design and administration of benefits was having an important contributory effect. Policy implications of paying Universal Credit in the form of a single monthly household award into one bank account are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-98
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Poverty and Social Justice
Issue number1
Early online date17 Sep 2019
Publication statusPublished - 29 Feb 2020

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