Demos Daily: Pathways from Poverty


During this crisis, the Department for Work and Pensions have had to deal with a sudden and steep rise in requests for welfare payments, needing to adapt rapidly and deliver payments on a scale greater than ever before. However, when this is over it is almost inevitable that there will need to be a rethink of the suitability of our current social safety net and how its delivered. Last year, we argued that the current system of support is broken and must be radically reshaped. We called for institutions beyond the DWP to deliver employment support to those ‘harder-to-help’ groups the DWP struggle to reach.

Read the full report, Pathways from Poverty, here, and introduction below.


This paper is about what institutional changes are required for the state to better provide employment support to ill and disabled people. When we know 30% of disabled people in the UK live in poverty, we believe this could help loosen poverty’s grip on people in these groups. (1)

Employment is often a vital first step of a pathway from poverty, but of course this alone may be insufficient to secure an individual or family’s freedom from poverty. This is because we know too many ill and disabled people often find employment that is low paid and insecure, because in-work benefit reductions over the last nine years, and because the costs of living with a disability can be high. Furthermore, disabled people all too often face discrimination and prejudice in the workplace. Fully addressing poverty among ill and disabled people will require social and economic changes to the labour market which, whilst extremely important, are beyond the scope of this paper.

This paper follows Demos Associate Tom Pollard’s earlier paper, Pathways from Poverty: A case for institutional reform, which set out why he believes the DWP is culturally and institutionally incapable of making the reforms needed to deliver better outcomes for society’s most vulnerable. Tom has worked on social policy related to mental health for the last ten years and recently spent 18 months at the DWP on secondment from the mental health charity Mind.

This paper expands on Tom’s ideas and assesses the best options for institutional reform, recommending a number of practical steps to achieve this. It draws on academic literature, original polling evidence and a roundtable held in December 2018 with leading parliamentarians, policy experts and representatives from the charity sector. We are extremely grateful to the attendees of the roundtable for contributing their time and invaluable expertise to the development of this paper’s thinking.