Studentship opportunity

Using child maintenance as a tool to enhance the circumstances, outcomes and wellbeing of lone mothers and children

This studentship is funded by the ESRC through the Scottish Graduate School of the Social Sciences

Heriot-Watt University
Human Geography, Environment and Urban Planning
Mode of study

Full time / Part time

Application deadline
24 June 2019

Project details

When lone-mothers receive child maintenance the risk of poverty reduces and the poverty gap closes by 30% in the UK. Child maintenance is where a non-resident parent regularly gives money to the parent with whom the child lives most of the time as a contribution towards the costs of raising a child. When the non-resident parent pays child maintenance they are also more likely to remain actively involved in their children’s lives. This suggests that the payment of maintenance can typically enhance children’s wellbeing and outcomes through increased income and through non-resident parental engagement in post-separation family situations. Most wealthy societies have formal child maintenance systems in place and seek, to varying degrees, to ensure payment compliance from the non-resident parent. Compliance varies across countries, from a low of 22% in the UK to a high of 100% in Sweden. Non-compliance with child maintenance is a growing issue but is an area of social policy that is not routinely considered in relation to improving the financial circumstances of lone-parents. This is especially the case in the UK where much of the focus is on facilitating their access to employment rather than their entitlement to financial support from a non-resident parent. Where there are low levels of compliance with child maintenance, eg the UK, children report that they take on the task of negotiating money, care and time between separated parents; an experience of which policy-makers take little notice. Children become frustrated and worried about their resident parent not receiving maintenance and they try to ease tensions between their parents around money and contact. This research uses longitudinal quantitative data from children and parents and, qualitative data from children, to explore the impacts of the payment/non-payment of child maintenance on child and lone-parent socioeconomic and other outcomes.

About the institution

The Institute for Social Policy, Housing, Equalities Research (I-SPHERE) was established with a mission – to use world-class research to help drive change for people affected by disadvantage. I-SPHERE is among the UK’s top social and housing policy research centres.  In our joint submission with the University of Edinburgh we were ranked first in Scotland and second in the UK on the comprehensive Research Power indicator in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework. This indicator reflects size, scope and quality of research. We specialise in research into:
  • Poverty, including food and fuel poverty, and destitution
  • Welfare systems, welfare reform and welfare conditionality
  • Complex needs and adverse childhood experiences
  • Homelessness and housing exclusion
  • Housing policy, law and rights
  • Housing needs, affordability and access
Through our research we aim to:
  • Drive forward policy/legislative change to improve the lives of society’s most vulnerable
  • Help governments/charities target funds effectively
  • Set the parameters of local/national/global academic and policy debate on extreme disadvantage


Applicants must meet the following eligibility criteria 
  • A good first degree (at least 2:1), preferably with a social science component
  • Demonstrate an interest in, and knowledge of, social policy, socioeconomic inequalities, poverty, gender, children and families, children’s rights and participation.
  • Have a good grounding in social statistics and be willing and able to extend statistical knowledge to an advanced level.

Students must meet ESRC eligibility criteria. ESRC eligibility information can be found here.

Award details

The scholarship is available as a +3 or a 1+3 programme depending on prior research training.  This will be assessed as part of the recruitment process.  The programme will commence in October 2019.  It includes
  • an annual maintenance grant at the RCUK rate (2019/20 rate £15,009 full-time)
  • fees at the standard Home rate
  • students can also draw on a pooled Research Training Support Grant, usually up to a maximum of £750 per year

Other information

The research will use the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) dataset. As well as children being part of the research via the dedicated questionnaire of the MCS, this project will also include children and young people using qualitative methods. This mixed-methods approach will use the results of the quantitative analysis to identify themes for use in the qualitative research. In this way, the quantitative and qualitative elements will be fully integrated and complementary rather than separate strands investigating the same topic. This is an exciting opportunity for a student to use these data in an intra-UK comparison on a topic with great potential for impact. The student would benefit greatly from learning to use this dataset as it is rich, longitudinal, and comprehensive and can help answer many policy and research questions pertaining to children and families. The student will be supervised by Professor Morag Treanor at Heriot-Watt University, Professor Kay Tisdall at the University of Edinburgh and Professor Glen Bramley at Heriot-Watt University. Professor Treanor researches in the field of child poverty, lone-parenthood and child wellbeing. Her research uses quantitative and qualitative methods of longitudinal data. Professor Tisdall, is an expert in children’s rights, family law and child contact. She is highly experienced in conducting and supervising qualitative research pertaining to children and young people that include the full participation of children. Professor Bramley is highly experienced in researching inequalities and using advanced quantitative methods. Together the three supervisors have the ideal substantive and methodological fit to co-supervise this project. The student would emerge with enhanced skills in both quantitative and qualitative methods.

How to apply

  1. Applicants register on GradHub and fill out EO data (this is a requirement of the application process)
  2. Applicants complete and upload the prescribed list of required documentation to include:
  • Application form (link above)
  • Academic transcripts
  • References
  • CV
  • a cover letter that outlines why you are interested in this studentship, that demonstrates your existing statistical skills and interest/experience in qualitative research with young people, and that gives an overview of the skills and experiences you would bring to this PhD focus in particular – this should be uploaded in a standalone document with a naming convention as follows


  1. Applicants submit application through GradHub (button below)

Selection process

Applications will be ranked by a selection panel and applicants will be notified if they have been shortlisted by the end of June. Interviews will take place in July 2019. All scholarship awards are subject to candidates successfully securing admission to a PhD programme within Heriot-Watt University.  Successful scholarship applicants will be invited to apply for admission to the relevant PhD programme after they are selected for funding.

Supervisor/Contact details

Professor Morag Treanor / Prof Glen Bramley/Professor Kay Tisdall