With a growth of employment rates alongside record-high levels of in-work poverty, attention has shifted to focus on the quality of work and how that might be improved.  While increasing wages will always be central to tackling in-work poverty, there are other steps that businesses can take to improve working practices and offer greater support to low earners.

The Work Foundation has been working in partnership with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and businesses drawn from the retail and social care sectors to explore how to maximise the value of fringe benefits – an important but under-researched component of good work.

This week we published the final report from the research. We find that there exists a broad spectrum of benefits and we argue that some of these would be better considered ‘fundamental’ rather than ‘fringe’ benefits – integral to a good work package.

We find low earners attach greater value to those benefits that mitigate their highest living costs such as food and leisure, travel, childcare, housing and utilities, as well as those that provide financial education and support.

However, employers and employees face a number of barriers that serve to undermine the take-up of benefits and the value they offer. This means there is no ‘silver bullet’ that will dramatically shift the reach or impact of employee benefits for low earners. Rather, our research identifies a ‘framework of good practice’ comprised of seven steps that serve to maximise value.

The report highlights the need to ‘raise the bar’ of job quality in low-paid roles. It calls for a new baseline for the minimum level of benefits employers are expected to offer low earners; supported by new incentives that recognise and reward businesses that offer ‘good work’, including greater transparency in financial reporting and stronger kite-marking to catalyse a new model for Corporate Governance: one centred around ‘Responsible Business’.

About the author

Heather Carey

Deputy Director of the Work Foundation