Welfare Conditionality Project researcher Dr Jenny McNeill has co-authored one of the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice’s ‘top five’ most read articles of 2016. Here she summarises the main issues
Media and government are fixated on the pervasiveness of so-called ‘scroungers’: people cheating the benefits system for welfare they are not entitled to, or those who do not properly take steps to end their dependency on benefits. In 2012, the then-Employment Minister Chris Grayling defended the use of benefit sanctions on the basis that they provide ‘a real deterrent for some people who are either not trying or who are gaming the system’.
Policy makers have also denied structural reasons in favour of emphasising people’s behaviours in explanations for the causes of poverty, unemployment, and social marginalisation. They have thus endorsed a need to ‘nudge’ targeted individuals to reduce welfare dependency. This heightened sense of panic over welfare abuse has in recent decades been called ‘scroungerphobia,’ but fears over the poor subverting the foundations of state or charitable support have much older roots (Rousseau, 1762).
Project team member Sarah Johnsen from Heriot-Watt University reports from a recent event on homelessness held in Glasgow
Attempts to deter people from rough sleeping and begging have generated controversy in England, where measures such as assertive outreach, ‘defensive architecture’, Dispersal Orders, arrests, ASBOs, and most recently Public Spaces Protection Orders, have been widely used. Some stakeholders view such measures as invaluable tools lending weight to attempts to move vulnerable individuals away from damaging lifestyles. Others worry that they displace the problem and/or make the incredibly difficult circumstances of those affected even worse. Read More
Michael Orton from the University of Warwick organised a series of events on this important theme recently. Our WelCond team members Lisa Scullion (University of Salford) and Sharon Wright (University of Glasgow) co-hosted two of the events. Here Michael summarises the project
Conditionality is a major issue but it can also be seen as part of more fundamental shift over the last thirty years or so, which has seen the notion of social security largely replaced by the term ‘welfare’ and the now ubiquitous ‘welfare reform’, a euphemism for cuts and increasing socio-economic insecurity. Read More
Newly crowned UK Independent Films Best Actor Dave Johns talked to Janis Bright about the Ken Loach film’s phenomenal impact
Last year Michael Caine won it. This year it could be one Dave Johns who claims the top acting prize in the European film awards next weekend. His starring role in I, Daniel Blake has taken him and everyone else involved on quite a journey. Clinching the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival was only the start for this remarkable film. Now Johns is having to fit in his regular work as a stand-up comic in the North East with requests for interviews from all over the globe. Not to mention dusting off the DJ for those award ceremonies. Read More
Peter Dwyer and Janis Bright consider this week’s report
This week the National Audit Office published its report on benefit sanctions. The NAO found that an increasingly harsh sanctions regime, extended in scope and severity, has been running for quite some time with only limited evidence on the outcomes and effectiveness of benefit sanctions leading to increased participation in paid work.
The NAO points out that government has a duty to evaluate its own rules, and to ‘balance their effectiveness in encouraging employment against the impacts on claimants and any wider costs for public spending’. Read More
In the aftermath of the EU referendum result, Jed Meers from the University of York argues that the vote’s potential implications on the domestic welfare system should not be ignored.
Before the EU referendum, Iain Duncan Smith – then the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions – clarified his priorities: “my big passion is welfare reform, but Europe goes over everything.” Though intended at the time to indicate the weighting of his personal opinion, this statement aptly describes post-Brexit manoeuvres. As the unpicking commences (or perhaps more accurately given concerns over Article 50, plans in advance of it) it is clear that our membership of the EU is indeed all over everything, welfare reform included. Read More
University of the West of England research student Coralie Neave-Coleshaw reviews the recent UN report revealing concerns about the UK welfare system, and shows how disabled people are affected by supply-side employment policies
The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) has recently released its concluding observations on the sixth periodic report of the United Kingdom. Its conclusions in respect of social security provisions are bleak; it is ‘deeply concerned about the various changes in the entitlements to, and cuts in, social benefits’ since 2012, and makes several recommendations. These include: reviewing entitlement to social security; reversing cuts; restoring links between benefit levels and the cost of living; and reviewing the use of sanctions. Read More
Our latest guest writer Michael Adler from the University of Edinburgh explores ways to ameliorate the effects of sanctions
In an article entitled ‘A new Leviathan: benefit sanctions in the twenty first century’, which appears in the current issue of the Journal of Law and Society, I draw attention to the spectacular growth of benefit sanctions in the UK that took place between 1998 and 2013. I noted that, in 2012 and 2013, the number of Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) sanctions imposed by the DWP, which was more than one million, actually exceeded the number of fines imposed in the criminal courts. Read More
In her latest guest blog for us, disability rights advisor Laura Welti raises an issue of practicalities for some welfare benefit recipients
I have recently been approached about the arrangements for those without a bank account to access their benefit payments.
The government, albeit reluctantly, contracted a high street chain to pay out benefits monies to individuals without bank accounts upon the provision of certain evidence. The chain has a presence in many areas of Bristol where I am based (and I assume elsewhere too). But there is a fundamental flaw in the arrangement that has been resulting in people having no cash whatsoever for several days after they should have been able to access their benefit payments. Read More
In this guest opinion piece, David Webster from the University of Glasgow gives his critical view on the presentation of sanction figures
After their election in 2010, ministers embarked on a campaign of ‘sanctions’, that is, withdrawals of benefit, against claimants of Jobseeker’s Allowance. They inherited a level of 533,000 a year, but drove it up to a peak of over one million in the year to October 2013, while also increasing the length of the penalties. Numbers of sanctions have since fallen, but only to a rate which is similar to the highest seen before 2010. Employment and Support Allowance sanctions have also increased. Britain’s voluntary sector has produced a forest of reports documenting the huge negative impact of the sanctions campaign on their vulnerable service users. But throughout, the government has tried to minimise it. It happened without any announcement, taking claimants and voluntary organisations by surprise. While official statements since 2013 have frequently highlighted the falls that have taken place, during the run-up to the peak they always denied that there was any clear trend. And the DWP routinely claims that ‘sanctions are only ever used as a last resort,’ ‘in a small (or ‘tiny’) minority of cases’. Similarly, it has persistently denied that sanctions drive people to food banks, in spite of the evidence. Read More