From parenting, sanctions and well-being to pensions, GDP and precarious work – a heterodox MSSP cohort

In the afternoon session, we had a series of short and snappy 5-minute presentations from PhD students and early career researchers so that they could introduce their work and research interests to the network. As the group included people at very different stages of their research, the presentations were varied: some outlined a theoretical framework or intended methodology, others a summary of their research findings. Knowing that there would be plenty of time later for in-depth debate and discussion, questions were limited to one per presentation. Below is a summary of the presentations (with some pictures!):


Poverty and Parenting in the UK – Kerris Cooper
Kerris gave a brief summary of findings from her thesis: she used the Millennium Cohort Study to understand more about how poverty is related to parenting in the UK and what mechanisms explain these relationships.


The health and well-being impacts of benefit sanctions – Evan Williams
Evan provided an overview of his PhD research, which is located at the intersection between the ‘Welfare Conditionality’ and ‘Activation’ literatures. In particular, his research investigates the impact of the threat and imposition of benefit sanctions on mental health.


Connecting Policy with the Personal: Individual Decision Making after Auto-Enrolment – Hayley James
Hayley’s presentation explained how her research explores pensions decisions through a qualitative research methodology. Her research has suggested that there are a wide range of influences on pension decision making, and there were two types of rationale that feature strongly in people’s experiences. These are a market-based rationale (which considers the return or outcome from investing in a pension) and a moral-based rationale (which draws on pension saving as the ‘right’ thing to do), and she is currently analysing the patterns of how and why people draw on these perspectives.


Relative Poverty: photographing the destitute – Les Monaghan
Les gave an overview of his work on “Relative Poverty”, which is a crowdfunded photography project shown in free public spaces. He explained how limited public awareness is that there are a shocking 1.25 million people in the UK in the direst of economic circumstances, choosing between eating, heating and keeping clean. He asked if our media cannot inform us of news as vital and critical to the functioning of society as this how else can a story of the voiceless be told and disseminated? His project seeks to address this awareness gap, with recent exhibitions in libraries and elsewhere.


Universal Credit’s influence on recipients in South London – Shuo Fei
Shuo discussed a very relevant topic of the moment: Universal Credit. Her presentation included evidence of recipients’ experiences and assessed the pros and cons of Universal Credit claiming methods/processes, in relation to the policy’s aims.


Alternative measures to GDP – Fabio Battaglia
Fabio’s presentation discussed what factors inhibit a) the growth of public interest in alternative/complementary measures to GDP and b) their actual application in decision-making. Although still at the start of his project, he explained how he might explore these factors and easily won the competition for the day’s best slides with a very interaction presentation.


Exploring labour market security: the perceptions and experiences of gendered work among young adult social care workers in Teesside – Duncan Fisher
Duncan’s presentation summarised his doctoral study of contemporary working conditions, with a focus on the perceptions and experiences of young adult social care workers in the Teesside area. He explained how adult social care work in the UK is characterised by low pay and poor working conditions, and the sector’s high turnover rate reveals particular difficulties with the retention of young people. Furthermore, adult social care work is heavily gendered, and his study looks to explore how gender, as well as social class and place, shape the lives of young people working in the sector


Money and meaning: how working age social security recipients understand and use their money – Kate Summers
Kate outlined her research, which has involved conducting in-depth interviews with social security recipients who live in east London. Kate’s work is particularly inspired by insights from new economic sociology, and the idea that we should pay close attention to money’s social and cultural relevance when trying to understand it.


What is money? – Israel Cedillo Lazcano
Israel’s research is tasked with trying to answer an important question from a legal perspective: what is money? He explained that different interpretations, warnings, memoranda, amongst other legal documents, have been issued around the world since the publication of a “modern” version of John Law’s Money and Trade Considered by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008: Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System. Yet, the only conclusion that we can obtain from the content of these instruments is that we do not have a uniform and optimal definition of money.


Basic Income and the Political Economy of the Welfare State – Joe Chrisp
Joe’s presentation outlined why the recent emergence of basic income on the political agenda demands a more rigorous understanding of how it might fit within existing institutional settings and their interaction with citizens and parties. He hopes to analyse citizens’ welfare state preferences as well as conduct elite interviews with policymakers.


Absolute and relative socio-economic status and subjective wellbeing – Laura Kudrna
Laura started by outlining key theories of reference groups and social comparisons as they relate to socio-economic status. She discussed which reference groups matter for people’s mental states in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing and American Time Use Surveys, and the fundamentally stressed the importance of understanding how well people are doing socio-economically in relative and not just absolute terms for social policy.


How low-income families experience and manage income variability and change – David Young
David outlined his PhD research which looks at how people on low-incomes experience and manage income variability and related changes in their lives that have financial consequences. This included a discussion of how his previous role as a welfare rights adviser had motivated him to carry out the research, some of the poverty dynamics literature underlying it and his methodological approach. He is particularly interested in the role income variability and related change plays in the experience of poverty and will use qualitative interviews and income and expenditure diaries to look at this experience over time.


Can’t save or won’t save: Retirement saving behaviour among young British adults – Ellie Suh
Ellie’s presentation outlined her project examining attitudes to saving and asset accumulation patterns among young British adults (30-49). The first part of her research looks at whether attitudes to pensions can be explained by resources or behavioural tendencies (can’t save vs. won’t save). The second investigates who gets to buy a home and how this helps (or hinders) their asset building at an earlier stage of life. Finally, she will examine who uses products such as ISAs or LISAs and how this also affects asset building.


The presentations all matched the bill of being concise and engaging and there were many others also there that had plenty of great insights to offer and questions to ask. It was a well-appreciated opportunity to see what common themes, theories and methods we were all using in our research. If you are reading these summaries and see some overlap with your research please get in touch!



The start of something great: MSSP launch event at the LSE – Thursday 2nd Nov 2017

by MSSP team

The day began with coffee and pastries at the PhD Academy in LSE’s Library Building and ended, for many attendees, in the pub. What filled the time between the two, wasn’t entirely food or drink related, but a jam packed day of presentations and interactive discussion. After the attendees got to know each other over a cup of coffee and briefly touched upon existential questions such as “what is money?”, everyone was treated to some words of wisdom from two experienced academics in the field of social policy who had kindly agreed to give a presentation.

Morning Session

“Follow your nose” and “Don’t do what I did”: stories, tips and insights into the future of social policy with Fran Bennett and Kitty Stewart

How did you get to where you are today? What research have you done relating to the themes of money, security and social policy? What are the most pressing issues for research in these areas in current times? These were some of the questions we put to our first speakers in the first session of the day: Fran Bennett and Kitty Stewart, during which they were invited to talk for about 20 minutes, followed by questions and a wider discussion with attendees. Both presentations were packed full of interesting stories and anecdotes, as well as valuable advice for those just embarking on their PhD journey (presentations are sometimes daunting but mostly beneficial) and those transitioning into professional academic roles (the art of balancing multiple demands is difficult to master). We discuss some of the highlights below.

fran and kitty

Fran Bennett’s career advice, in a nutshell, was along the lines of, “don’t do what I did.” An unconventional route into a part time academic position at the University of Oxford, Fran’s career has consisted of a series of fascinating roles working for charities, including the Child Poverty Action Group and Oxfam, and as a member of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation Research Committee, as well as advising national governments and international organisations. Gender has been at the heart of most of Fran’s work and it was fascinating to hear about the tensions in this area, such as the extent to which the social security system should support women who care and the ‘danger’ of reinforcing gendered divisions of labour. Despite these debates among feminist scholars, Fran stressed the importance of policy research and policy analysis (and the blurred distinction between the two). In particular, longitudinal qualitative methods, Fran argued, are essential for understanding men’s and women’s access to resources within a household. Even if there is income, we can’t assume it is shared between the couple or the household. This comes from first-hand experience carrying out research for the Gender Equality Network on the impact of inequalities in the household where she and Sirin Sung interviewed men and women independently about how they managed their money and saw sources of income. In the same vein, Fran continues to influence the policy agenda with her work on gender and the minimum wage, the living wage, in-work poverty and Universal Credit, to name just a few policy areas.

Fran gave us some valuable advice on how to make academic work meaningful and relevant to those working in policy: know the issues that matter to your audience. In terms of gender, income and social security, Fran stressed that there is much more we still need to think through. This was followed by an interesting open discussion about how gender is often side-lined or marginalised (e.g. a gender week in social policy courses) in teaching and research, instead of being present throughout, and why this might be. An important question that the MSSP network might want to debate in the future.

Kitty Stewart came armed with a handful of books. The first, her PhD on fiscal federalism in Russia and financing education, was used to illustrate two points (1) “when you look back at your PhD in 20 years it will not be as bad as you thought”, and (2) “this is the beginning of your research career” – some people doing PhDs will become specialists in their current area but others will be do something completely different. The second book was the result of work Kitty carried out after her PhD on whether EU member states were converging in relation to the provision of welfare for children as they were in other areas such as debt ratios and interest rates. The aim here was partly to try to get away from purely financial indicators or money and to look at wellbeing in a holistic way because income measures were often not very good at capturing individual circumstances. Having a wider range of measures, such as access to services, is also important. Kitty’s later work (re)emphasized the importance of money, most influentially looking at the impact of income poverty on children’s outcomes through a systematic review, with MSSP member Kerris Cooper. The timing of this research was pertinent and undermined the contemporary austerity agenda as well as the coalition government’s push to focus on non-monetary indicators. The third book, Social Policy in a Cold Climate, authored by Kitty and others related to this context and looked at social policy since the financial crisis under New Labour and the Coalition government.

Turning to today and one of the most important themes relating to money, security and social policy: inequality. Kitty argued that poverty and low incomes are always important, and Universal Credit and social security can have a huge impact on peoples’ lives, but there is room for more research that explores the relationship between rich and poor: “high incomes are part of the problem”.

Kitty’s career advice was clear: Follow your nose and do what interests you; get out and present and talk to others about your work (even if it is daunting); and collaborate. The latter, Kitty emphasized, is not only rewarding because you get to work with other people, but is also one of the only ways of getting things done when you are juggling teaching, an academic career and a life outside of work. In Kitty’s own words, her work has mostly been ‘reactive’ to policy and political changes, but this she argues is a privilege – an academic’s position is ultimately a very privileged one insofar as it permits making the most of opportunities to focus on the things you are interested in. Yet, there is a difficult tension between influencing policy (e.g. by writing blogs) and publishing, with the latter being particularly important for getting a job!

Both presentations were lively, engaging and informative. As PhD students and ECRs, it is refreshing and calming to hear experienced and esteemed academics talk about their own development and career trajectories in a way that draws out the complexity, the challenges and the role of luck and chance alongside the importance of hard work. A key message from both was the importance of networks, like MSSP, for providing opportunities to talk about your work, collaborate and advance research in the field. An energising and encouraging note to kick off the launch event!

*This post was amended on 28 January 2018 to acknowledge Sirin Sung as a co-interviewer on the Gender Equality Network project and to better reflect Fran’s previous roles.

MSSP Launch Event!

Money, Security and Social Policy Launch Event

Thurs 2nd November
LSE PhD Academy, London

(Register here)

Are you a PhD student or an early career academic researching money, security, and social policy?

Are you interested in being part of a community that shares and discusses research, ideas, methods, data and more?

Then come to an exciting full-day launch event for a PhD and early career researcher network on all things Money, Security and Social Policy. The event will be held on Thursday, 2nd November, at the PhD Academy, London School of Economics.

The event will include keynotes from two highly experienced academics in the field:

  • Professor Jane Millar (Institute for Policy Research, University of Bath)
    Professor of Social Policy with research interests in social security and family policy, lone parents, employment and poverty. Publications include about 30 books, edited books and research reports; over 40 journal articles; over 60 book chapters; and over 150 conference/seminar papers. Jane is also elected chair of the Social Policy Association, chair of the nominations committee of the Academy of Social Sciences, and chair of one of the three inter-disciplinary Grant Assessment Panels of the Economic and Social Research Council.
  • Dr Kitty Stewart (CASE, London School of Economics)
    Dr Stewart is Associate Director of CASE and Associate Professor at the Department of Social Policy, LSE. Her research interests include child poverty and disadvantage, international comparisons of policy and outcomes relating to poverty and inequality, and employment trajectories for low skilled workers.

In the morning session both speakers will discuss their work, the history and developments of research on money, security and social policy, and reflect on the relevance and nature of these themes today. They will also be available for a Q&A and more informal questions over lunch.

The afternoon session will include presentations by PhD students and early career researchers in a short snappy format. There will also be opportunities to break out into groups to discuss themes, each other’s research, and opportunities for collaboration. We will end by planning future activities of the network.

Lunch will be provided.

We want as many PhD students and early career researchers to give a short 5-7 minute presentation of their work as possible so please get in touch if you are interested! The presentations can be on anything. Contact us using the contact form or email us at .


The PhD academy is located on the fourth floor of the LSE Library (Lionel Robbins Building, LRB), 10 Portugal Street, London WC2A 2HD.

Registration required:

Please register via the EventBrite website:


What is MSSP?

We are an SPA-supported network, interested in bringing together people with similar research interests to facilitate the sharing of knowledge, research and ideas.

The purpose of the network is to facilitate the sharing of ideas, knowledge and research on money, security and social policy across academic institutions in the UK and beyond; online and at events, seminars and workshops. The network aims to be open, inclusive and accessible. We want to learn not only from each other but from those with knowledge and expertise gained through experience. Members of the network are also connected with ‘mentors’ through workshops and events to help with research and ideas, as well as practical advice in careers and skills development. We aim to foster collaboration between researchers using online forums and face-to-face events. We also have an external presence via our blog and twitter account @msspuk

Sounds great, how can I get involved with the network straight away?

Join our Yammer group

For online communication – join our Yammer group! Have a click around – the idea of the group is to share news, events and to discuss research and ideas. In the ‘notes’ section you will find threads on ‘events’ and ‘reading’. On the home page, please scroll down and click ‘subscribe to this group by email’ to receive updates when someone posts to the group.

Put your biography on our blog

You’ll see on the blog that we have profiles of the group’s members. If you would like to be listed here, please send a short bio to and a link to your institutional profile and you’ll be added on. We hope this will mean that researchers with similar interests can find one another, as well as helping to make people’s work better known.

Contribute to the blog

If you would like to write a piece for the MSSP blog that would be great! Have a look on the yammer page under ‘files’, and you’ll see a ‘Blog Sign Up Sheet’. Add your name and blog idea there and the editor will be in touch. Otherwise get in touch with the editor at to discuss your idea.

Tweet about your work

Tweet what you’re thinking or working on @ the MSSP twitter account and again this can be a way of publicising and sharing your work!

Why do these themes matter?

Amid growing concerns about pervasive insecurity, and the policy contexts of austerity and Brexit Britain, there is a pressing need to deepen our understanding of the relationship between money, security and social policy. When people are able to obtain money and security they can establish the freedom to pursue their interests, invest in relationships, take care of themselves and their families and invest time and energy in their communities. Building on the work of many before us, we aim to keep money and security at the heart of social policy research.

If we want to improve social mobility, we have to address child poverty

By Kerris Cooper and Dr Kitty Stewart

A recent report by the Social Mobility Commission was damning in its evaluation of the little progress that has been made by successive governments in reducing inequalities. It highlighted that child poverty in the UK has increased since 2011 and that ‘given the billions invested in services, it is disappointing that there has not been a greater impact on narrowing the attainment gap between poorer children and their better-off peers’.

Continue reading “If we want to improve social mobility, we have to address child poverty”

The ground has shifted. Is the time right for basic income?

By Joe Chrisp

Despite the Conservative Party still winning the most seats, the General Election was undoubtedly a seismic event that shook the foundations of how many people understand politics. Yet, there are almost as many people that claim to have the answer to the GE puzzle as there were people who claimed it was a foregone conclusion. By explaining the result people are also attempting to map out a path forwards and predict what it means for politics in the future. With the onward march of basic income worldwide, at least in terms of attention, it is interesting to consider what the election may mean for the future of basic income in the UK. How should advocates view the election result in respect to the political feasibility of basic income?

Continue reading “The ground has shifted. Is the time right for basic income?”