Information for researchers

Welfare Conditionality: Sanctions, Support and Behaviour Change is a major five-year programme of research funded under the Economic and Social Research Council’s Centres and Large Grants Scheme. The project aims to create an international and interdisciplinary focal point for social science research on welfare conditionality and brings together teams of researchers working in six English and Scottish Universities. Central to our work is a desire to inform policy and practice through the establishment of an original and comprehensive evidence base on the efficacy and ethicality of conditionality across a range of social policy fields and diverse groups of welfare service users.


This research has two core aims:

  • Effectiveness: to develop an empirically and theoretically informed understanding of the role of welfare conditionality in promoting and sustaining behaviour change among a diversity of welfare recipients over time;
  • Ethicality: to consider the particular circumstances in which the use of conditionality may, or may not, be ethically justified.

Our mission statement

To conduct independent, high quality and impactful research located at the forefront of international debates on the theory and practice of welfare conditionality.


In the UK the use of conditional welfare arrangements that combine elements of sanction and support that aim to influence and change the behaviour of certain welfare recipients is now an established part of the welfare, housing, criminal justice and immigration systems. A strong mainstream political consensus exists in favour of conditionality, whereby many welfare entitlements are increasingly dependent on citizens first agreeing to meet particular compulsory duties or patterns of approved behaviour. However, assumptions about the benefits and usefulness of conditionality in changing the behaviour of social welfare recipients remain largely untested. We aim to address gaps in existing knowledge by establishing an original and comprehensive evidence base on the efficacy and ethicality of conditionality across a range of social policy fields and diverse groups of welfare service users.


We are undertaking fieldwork with three sets of respondents:

  • semi-structured interviews with 40 key informants, ie, policy-makers;
  • 24 focus groups (with 6-10 respondents) with frontline welfare practitioners who implement policy; and
  • repeat qualitative longitudinal interviews with a diverse sample of 480 welfare recipients who are subject to conditionality. Each person will be interviewed three times giving a total of 1440 interviews.

The fieldwork is taking place in Bath, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Greater Manchester, Inverness, London, Peterborough, Sheffield and Warrington.

User involvement and communication activities are embedded throughout the research to ensure that individuals and organisations who may benefit from the study are engaged throughout. We conceive of user involvement as focused on two broad groups: welfare service users (‘end users’, including service user-led organisations); and stakeholder groups and organisations (welfare policymakers and practitioners, central government departments, local authorities, umbrella groups/membership organisations, campaigning bodies, service providers, etc).

ESRCAn ESRC large grant
University of Glasgow Heriot Watt University University of Salford Manchester Sheffield Hallam University University of Sheffield University of York