23 March 2016 09:00

Wage poverty is an endemic problem in Britain because of the way wages are thought about – as a price for a job, rather than as a means of earning a living.

New research from Lancaster University draws upon research at the National Archives and Lancashire and Norfolk records offices and is the first comprehensive examination of debates about, and policies for, the supplementation of wages in Britain since the late 18th century.

Dr Chris Grover, from the Law School and Sociology Department, demonstrates how discussions of contemporary wage supplements (Tax Credits and their replacement Universal Credit) have a long history and how ideas on the supplementation of wages have shifted from a position where they were prohibited in the 1830s to their widespread use in today’s society.

“At various points wages supplements have been interpreted as being both deeply problematic - for example discouraging people from working and encouraging employers to pay low wages,” explains Dr Grover.

“They have also been looked on as highly beneficial - for example, encouraging people to do low paid work and reducing pressure on employers to increase wages - for working people, and for the economy and society more generally.”

The research also demonstrates that gender issues have been central to concerns with wage supplements, with their development being shaped by governments’ views about the nature of relationships between men and women in couple households, how the payment of wage supplements to men or women in couple households may impact upon incentives to take work and impact on the aim of reducing pressure on employers to increase wages.

Dr Grover argues that the current proposal for the curtailing of Universal Credit payments in favour of a ‘national living wage’ will not address the long-standing poverty of many people in paid employment.

Social Security and Wage Poverty by Dr Chris Grover is published by Palgrave Macmillan.