Rigorous quantitative research into tax, benefits, poverty and living standards over the last 17 years has changed debate and shaped policy, most recently on Universal Credit.

Impacts

  • In 2010, Professor Mike Brewer's assessment of how the UK's tax and welfare system affected incentives to work (in the Mirrlees Review) supported a shift in policy towards a simpler and more integrated welfare system.
  • His conclusions in the 2015 Resolution Foundation report Making the Most of Universal Credit (UC) were endorsed by the Social Security Advisory Committee.
  • Professor Brewer's research on child poverty – how best to measure poverty, model poverty rates and reform taxes, welfare and childcare policies – has shaped policy work on tax credits and poverty undertaken by third sector organisations including the Child Poverty Action Group and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).
  • Between 2012 and 2016 he served on a task group helping the JRF produce a comprehensive, evidence-based, anti-poverty strategy that was presented to the Number 10 Policy Unit and launched in the Welsh Assembly.
  • Brewer has advised government officials in the UK and Scotland, and other governments including Ireland, Hungary, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan, on microsimulation modelling.
  • Together with colleague Professor Alissa Goodman from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), he launched an annual report, Poverty and Inequality in Britain, on trends in inequality, poverty and living standards. This has now become an invaluable resource for students, researchers, journalists and the general public.
  • From 2004 to 2011 he led the IFS team that produces next-day analysis of winners and losers from budget measures. This work continues to receive widespread publicity in broadcast and print media.

"It is hard to think of another academic in the UK today who more effectively combines a commitment to understanding poverty issues through robust research in order to influence policy with a similarly high commitment to methodological rigour." (Chris Goulden, Deputy Director of Policy and Research, Joseph Rowntree Foundation)

About the research

Professor Mike Brewer's use of microsimulation modelling techniques to identify the winners and losers of tax and benefit reforms has reframed policy debates and shaped public understanding for almost two decades.

“Politicians inevitably want to focus on the positive aspects of a reform,” Professor Mike Brewer points out. “But simply highlighting how a few example families will be affected is not the way to analyse the complex consequences of changes to tax or welfare benefits.”

Based on quantitative approaches employed by Professor Brewer, first at the ESRC Centre for the Microeconomic Analysis of Public Policy and, more recently, at the ESRC Research Centre on Micro-Social Change, policy debate today is more rigorous and transparent than in the past.

By using data which covers the entire population rather than specific households, he and his team can analyse the policy trade-offs within, for example, the design of tax and benefit systems. “Our analysis exposes how many people will be worse off and in what ways, and not just how many people will benefit,” he points out.

Professor Brewer was one of the earliest advocates of a more unified benefit system, but it has taken more than a decade to see Universal Credit evolve. Patience and becoming a 'trusted partner', he believes, are key to making an impact on policy.

“It's likely that policymakers aren't ready to listen at the precise moment research findings become available. Instead, you have to make your research accessible, and do things to keep your research in the public eye until policymakers want to listen,” he points out.