The study presented in this working paper had two main aims: first, to examine the benefit and service policies in other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries which are most effective in assisting partnered women into work; secondly, to assess the transferability of these policies to the British context.
There has been increasing policy interest in assisting partnered women as well as lone parents into work. This relates to the policy goals of reducing the numbers of workless couple households and of reducing child poverty. The New Deal for Partners of the Unemployed introduced in 1999 (later New Deal for Partners (NDP) and Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) joint claims introduced in 2001 aimed to target partners of main benefit claimants who, as a group, had previously been remote from the public employment service. NDP has been followed by a succession of policy initiatives which aim to help partners, most of whom are women, into work. This includes the Partners Outreach for Ethnic Minority (POEM) Pilot and most recently the extension of JSA joint claims to couples with children, as well as the broader context of Universal Credit (UC) and the Work Programme.
Across all three countries examined (Australia, Denmark and Britain) there is a similar proportion of partnered women within the benefits systems and in each of the countries partnered women not in paid work share similar constraints on working, including caring responsibilities (particularly childcare), health problems or disability, literacy/language problems, lack of qualifications and lack of work experience. A key finding from both Australia and Denmark was that to engage with partnered women and assist them into work requires them to be given access to means-tested social assistance as individuals, not as dependent partners. In both Australia and Denmark individual activity testing accompanied individual entitlement to benefit. In Australia this began with partial individualisation of benefits under Working Nation from 1995. By contrast, in Britain for most partners increasing conditionality in the form of Work Focused Interviews (WFIs) came first under enhanced NDP but was not accompanied by access to benefits in their own right as individuals, contributing to the confusion inherent in the policy and the programme’s lack of effectiveness.