Vice-Chancellor PhD Scholarship – Manchester Metropolitan University


Welfare Systems for the New Economy: A Three Country Comparison of Social Protection for the Self-employed


The UK is experiencing rapid growth in low-paid self-employment. This doctoral project will be part of a new inter-disciplinary programme of research looking at how welfare systems shape ‘decent self-employment’. It will put the UK in context by comparing welfare provision with two other countries and developing evidence-led policy recommendations.

Aims and objectives

The UK economy has experienced a rapid increase inlow-income self-employment arising from:

  • Dramatic rise in self-employment as a main job (up from 3.8 million in 2007 to 4.7 million in 2015) so that self-employment has reached and sustained a 40 year high and accounts for 15% of jobs.
  • Particular growth in self-employment among lower earning groups (women and older workers).
  • Rapid decrease in self-employment income (down 22% in real terms 2002-12), such that average earnings in self-employment are now just 54% of average wages from employment.
  • Significant drag on rates of exit from self-employment – 23% after 5 years (2009-14), down from 36% after 5 years (2004-9), raising concerns of a low income self-employment trap.

(Sources: ONS, 2017, 2016a, 2014; Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2015).

Growth in self-employment is not an inevitable recessionary effect: rates fell in the 1990s recession and have declined in the EU. Yet, self-employment increased throughout the UK’s recent recession and job recovery was primarily via self-employment (ONS, 2014). It seems that economic, political, technological, demographic and other changes are undermining employment and fostering low-profit self-employment. This may be part of the wider growth of precarious work.

Poverty rates are high in families that include a self-employed worker: 40% in couples a lone self-employed worker; nearly 40% for the single self-employed who work part-time, and; 26% for self-employed couples and singles working full-time (JRF, 2015). These worrying statistics suggest we need a welfare system better designed to prevent poverty in self-employed families. Equally, however, we may also need an approach that discourages entrance into low-paid self-employment and encourages early exit. These are complex objectives to achieve in a welfare system that, to date, has been designed to support employment careers.

Manchester Metropolitan University researchers from business, economics and law are working to scrutinize the effect, and effectiveness, of the UK’s welfare provision for the self-employed: the Universal Credit and Tax Credit systems, the New Enterprise Allowance Scheme, Housing Benefit, family leave payments etc. We are not just interested in critiquing the existing system but working with various stakeholders to consider what a more effective welfare system, specifically designed to encourage ‘decent self-employment’, might look like. To this end, we are keen to compare the UK system with other countries. This comparison will enable us to imagine different approaches to welfare support and develop logical argument, informed by empirical evidence, to improve the UK system post-Brexit.

This doctoral project will systematically compare the UK welfare system, as it specifically affects the self-employed, with parallel institutions in two other countries. These are likely to include a Nordic state and another northern European economy comparable to the UK. Due to our existing international connections, we will probably compare with Denmark and Germany but this selection may vary in light of the doctoral researcher’s language skills or interests, or if a theoretically more interesting comparative context is identified.

The key project aim will be to compare the efficacy of welfare systems in three states in shaping ‘decent self-employment’. Objectives will be to:

  1. Define ‘decent self-employment’.
  2. Logically analyse the risks created by self-employment, the role of welfare systems in moderating these risks and the processes through which welfare rules can encourage, discourage or regulate particular forms of self-employment and risk.
  3. Compare three state welfare systems as they perform in relation to (2).
  4. Draw on (3) to identify better practice approaches to designing a welfare system that shapes ‘decent self-employment’
  5. Propose policy recommendation to improve the UK welfare system.

Research impact will be an integral part of the project from the outset due to continual engagement with stakeholders in project design and analysis.

This project supervisory team will include Professor Julia Rouse

Specific requirements of the project

We welcome applicants who can demonstrate an interest or expertise in entrepreneurship or welfare systems and who are passionate about shaping welfare provision to shape ‘decent self-employment’. The researcher must be willing to learn about both domains and evidence ability to think analytically; key aspects of the project will be defining ‘decent self-employment’ and its causes, and then analyzing how different welfare policies shape these processes.

The project demands that the applicant is able to work collaboratively with international and national academics and stakeholders and so we are seeking a candidate who has experience and confidence in building relationships, working on their own initiative and within a team.

Ideally, the researcher will bring a relevant European language skill (while we currently intend to focus on Germany and Denmark, this decision may be influenced by a researcher’s language skills in an alternative northern European language – e.g. French, Spanish). The researcher will not be expected to be fluent in the project’s languages but they will have the confidence and perseverance to work with partners to identify key texts and manage the process of having them translated into English.

Our project aims to create significant impact and so the researcher must demonstrate that they combine a sharp intellectual curiosity with a keen interest in co-creating solutions from evidence; ideally, they may have a history in policy development or research impact.

We seek to offer a rounded ‘apprenticeship’ in research by embedding the researcher in two University Centres for Research and Knowledge Exchange. The applicant should demonstrate their enthusiasm for being part of such inter-disciplinary and impactful teams and willingness to contribute to the wider life of our Centres.

The successful candidate would be expected to start in September/October 2018

Student eligibility

This opportunity is open to UK/EU and International applicants.

For further information and to apply please click here.


Comments are closed.