Growing together or growing apart?, by Martin Evans, Michael Noble, Gemma Wright, George Smith, Myfanwy Lloyd and Chris Dibben

Growing together or growing apart? Geographic patterns of change of Income Support and income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants in England between 1995 and 2000 (The Policy Press for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2002).

This report is precisely what it says it is, and the thorough nature of the research and its careful conclusions will be of considerable service to policy-makers. The researchers conclude that “there have been very different rates of change in different areas, and the areas with the highest numbers and proportions of claimants in 1995 have tended to be slower to participate in the overall national economic growth” (p.81); that some claimant groups have increased in size (for instance, people with disabilities) (p.81); and that “there has been increasing polarisation between wards with high and low claim rates from 1995 to 2000” (p.82). Generally, claimant numbers have declined between 1995 and 2000, and claimant numbers have declined in the wards with the highest claim rates even if claim rates haven’t; but in 2000 there were still 3.8m claimants of Income Support, Job Seeker’s Allowance and Invalidity Benefit in England, and about half of them lived in the 20% of wards with the highest claim rates.

The report suggests that future research should take the analysis further, to the level of the individual. We would encourage this. It would bring into the spotlight not only the ways in which location and personal characteristics influence the probability of leaving benefit, as the researchers suggest: it would also enable questions about disincentives to be asked. The development of a disincentive index (an important component of which would be the maximum marginal rate of benefit deduction experienced by an individual entering employment or increasing their earned income) might go a long way towards uncovering some of the reasons for the differences between claim rates in different areas and amongst different groups of people.