Our project welcomes the Commons Work & Pensions Committee’s landmark report into benefit sanctions, published today. The report, which extensively cites our evidence, calls on government ‘urgently to evaluate the effectiveness of reforms to welfare conditionality and sanctions introduced since 2012, including an assessment of sanctions’ impact on people’s financial and personal well-being’.
The report contrasts government statements on the purpose of sanctions in motivating people to move into work, with extensive evidence that they are ineffective in achieving this. It cites our evidence that Jobcentre Plus’ focus on recipients fulfilling their mandatory conditions, plus recipients’ fear of sanctions, led to ‘counterproductive compliance’. In fact, our independent research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council found that stasis — a lack of significant, sustained change in employment status — was the most common outcome for welfare service users in our study. Read More
Our Director Professor Peter Dwyer delivered the opening plenary at the prestigious Australian Council of Social Service annual conference in Sydney today. ACOSS is a national advocate for action to reduce poverty and inequality and the peak body for the community services sector in Australia. Professor Dwyer outlined key messages from our research on the failures of conditionality in the welfare system, and its ineffectiveness in helping people into work. Read More
Our project has submitted written evidence to the UN Special Rapporteur on on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston. Professor Alston will undertake an official visit to the UK from 6 to 16 November 2018 at the invitation of the government. His visit will focus, in accordance with his mandate, on the interlinkages between poverty and the realisation of human rights in the United Kingdom.
In our evidence, Project Director Professor Peter Dwyer, University of York; Dr Lisa Scullion, University of Salford, and Dr Sharon Wright, University of Glasgow, write on behalf of our project on the erosion of economic and social rights as a core component of national citizenship status and justifications for such rights on the basis of universal human needs. Based on our final findings, the researchers’ evidence details how benefit sanctions leave many unable to meet their basic needs, with those sanctioned increasingly reliant on charitable and (where available) familial provision for support.
Read our evidence in full.
Our new video explains the multiple problems our research found with conditionality in Universal Credit. Negative impacts and counterproductive effects of sanctions were widespread, and for those already in work conditionality simply did not make sense. Our project’s UC lead researcher Dr Sharon Wright from the University of Glasgow explains in the video.
Read our findings in full here.
Our project has received funding to support two Visiting Fellowships for early career researchers to spend up to four weeks with us at the University of York, UK. This is part of an initiative to establish an international research network on welfare conditionality within the social security systems in the high income Anglophone nations, to be hosted in the Department of Social Policy and Social Work (SPSW), University of York.
Early career researchers based in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the UK or the USA are invited to apply. Full details of the scheme, eligibility and application procedures are here. Applications are now closed (12 noon UK time, 1 November 2018).
Benefit sanctions had no tangible positive effect in moving disabled people closer to paid work, says researcher Dr Katy Jones from the University of Salford in our new video. On the contrary, they could worsen existing illnesses and move people further away from employment.
The video is based on our project’s final findings (also available in large print). Colleagues Dr Jenny McNeill, Dr Lisa Scullion, Dr Katy Jones and Dr Alasdair B R Stewart also wrote a refereed journal article on disabled claimants’ perspectives of the UK welfare system.
Sanctions fail to encourage people to engage with the social security system in a meaningful way, leading to negative effects. That’s a key point from a new video by our lead researcher on offenders, Professor Del Roy Fletcher from the Centre for Regional, Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University.
Professor Fletcher outlines the way many offenders end up claiming the wrong benefit, and so experiencing high levels of sanctioning. He points to the crucial difference getting support to deal with problems makes in helping bring about sustained behaviour change among this group of welfare service users. Read our findings in full.
Drawing on evidence from our WelCond project, the first major independent study of benefit sanctions, support, and behaviour change, Sharon Wright, Sarah Johnsen, and Lisa Scullion write that not only do sanctions not help move people into work, they also have a detrimental effect on their lives. This is because sanctions push recipients further into poverty and cause significant distress in the process, with potentially life-changing negative results. This post first appeared on the LSE Politics & Policy Blog. Read the full text.
Drawing on the first major independent study of benefit sanctions, support, and behaviour change, Sharon Wright, Sarah Johnsen, and Lisa Scullion write that not only do sanctions not help move people into work, they also have a detrimental effect on their lives. This is because sanctions push recipients further into poverty and cause significant distress in the process, with potentially life-changing negative results. This post first appeared on the LSE Politics & Policy Blog
Introduction of the UK’s harshest ever social security sanctions regime in 2012 reinforced a dramatic upturn in sanctions. In 2012-2013 alone, ‘more people received a benefit sanction than a fine in the criminal courts’. While this ‘great sanctions drive’ is a defining feature of Conservative-led social reform, the ‘big stick’ version of welfare conditionality was not tested before its application. Here we present evidence that sanctions are harmful and ineffective in moving benefit recipients into sustainable employment. Read More
Our researchers from the University of Glasgow have called for greater social security powers to be devolved to Scotland to end the punitive UK sanction regime.
In Scotland, newly devolved social security legislation is based on the principles of ‘dignity, fairness and respect’, with employment services being needs based and voluntary without sanctions. However, the findings of our new report launched today show that, with many social security powers still reserved to Westminster, it means an ineffective UK system of conditionality and sanctions is causing profound suffering to people in Scotland.
Welfare conditionality is about linking welfare rights to ‘responsible’ behaviour. A principle of conditionality holds that access to certain basic, publicly provided, welfare benefits and services should be dependent on an individual first agreeing to meet particular obligations or patterns of behaviour. It has been a key element of welfare state reform in many countries since the mid-1990s.
Proponents argue this helps people transition off benefits and into paid work, but critics refute this and contend that it exacerbates social exclusion, and that experiencing benefit sanctions can push disadvantaged people’s finances into disarray.
The Scottish WelCond findings report was led by Dr Sharon Wright of the University of Glasgow, and also co-authored or fed into by other academics and researchers from our six-university team funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. It draws upon three waves of repeat interviews with Universal Credit recipients, jobseekers, disabled people, migrants, lone parents, homeless people, offenders and those subject to anti-social behaviour interventions and Family Intervention Projects in Scotland.
Dr Wright said: “These are exciting times for Scotland, where devolved social security is based on dignity, fairness and respect. Scottish employment services are needs-based and voluntary, provided without sanctions.
“However, many social security powers remain reserved to Westminster. Our research shows that the ineffective UK system of conditionality and sanctions causes profound suffering throughout Scotland. Disabled people, those who have long-term health conditions, lone parents, jobseekers and, under Universal Credit, low-paid workers, are all badly affected by sanctions. We are asking the Scottish Government to lobby Westminster for greater social security powers to end the punitive sanction regime in Scotland.” Watch our video
Key findings from the research include:
- Disabled people tended to be positive about the prospect of a devolved social security system in Scotland, although overall there was a lack of awareness of newly devolved Scottish powers amongst research participants
- Research participants were keen to work and made self-directed efforts to improve their situation
- The threat or experience of benefit sanctions did not improve job outcomes amongst research participants, and instead were counterproductive, leading to negative outcomes (e.g. anxiety, depression, poverty, debt and worsening health) and created new barriers to work (eg, reduced self-esteem and educed income for job-search)
- Support for benefit claimants mainly consisted of mandatory self-help activities e.g. online job hunting, which few participants found useful. Responsive, holistic or in-depth support tended to be lacking.
This research adds to the evidence-base already created by other briefings from our project that highlight the ineffectiveness of punitive conditionality within the welfare system. Key policy recommendations include:
- That the Scottish Parliament lobby the UK Government to transfer greater powers to Scotland, in order to promote the extension of the principles of dignity, fairness and respect within Scottish social security and employment services.
- To reform the currently reserved parts of the conditionality system under Universal Credit, Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance, to ensure that Jobcentre Plus users are treated with empathy and compassion, and that sanctions are reduced in length/severity and removed completely for vulnerable people.
- That the Scottish Government and UK DWP continue to collaborate to establish new cooperative Scotland-wide practice agreements to bridge the gap between the reserved and devolved social security and employment service systems.