Welfare conditionality within the social security system is largely ineffective and in some cases pushes people into poverty and crime, our major study has found.
Welfare conditionality links eligibility for welfare benefits and services to responsibilities or particular patterns of behaviour, under threat of sanction for non-compliance. It has been a key element of welfare state reform in many countries since the mid-1990s.
Supporters say the use of sanctions and support is an effective way of weaning people off benefits and into paid work, or addressing anti-social behaviour. However, critics argue that behavioural conditionality is largely ineffective in promoting paid employment and personal responsibility, and is likely to exacerbate social exclusion among disadvantaged populations.
Our WelCond project, led by the University of York and involving the Universities of Glasgow, Sheffield, Salford, Sheffield Hallam and Heriot-Watt, analysed the effectiveness, impact and ethics of welfare conditionality from 2013-2018. The findings are based on repeat longitudinal interviews undertaken with 339 people in England and Scotland and drawn from nine policy areas, including Universal Credit, disabled people, migrants, lone parents, offenders and homeless people.
Key findings include:
- Little evidence welfare conditionality enhanced people’s motivation to prepare for or enter paid work
- Some people pushed into destitution, survival crime and ill health
- Benefit sanctions routinely triggered profoundly negative personal, financial and health outcomes
- The mandatory training and support is often too generic, of poor quality and largely ineffective in enabling people to enter and sustain paid work
The report quotes a homeless man who says he was forced into drug dealing due to welfare conditionality, while a disabled woman said she “sunk into depression” as a result of benefit sanctions.
The authors of the report say it is time for a “comprehensive review” of the use of welfare conditionality.
WelCond Director Professor Peter Dwyer, from the University of York’s Department of Social Policy and Social Work, said: “Our review reveals that in the majority of cases welfare conditionality doesn’t work as intended and we have evidence it has increased poverty and pushed some people into survival crime.
“What also became apparent was people were focusing on meeting the conditions of their benefit claim and that became their job – it is totally counter-productive.
“You are just making people do things to meet the conditions of the claim rather than getting them into work.”
“Successive governments have used welfare conditionality and the ‘carrot and stick ’ it implies to promote positive behaviour change.
“Our review has shown it is out of kilter, with the idea of sanctioning people to the fore. It is more stick, very little carrot and much of the support is ineffective.”
Other key recommendations include:
- Reduce the severity of sanctions
- Job search support and employment and skills training need to be significantly improved
- The wider application of welfare conditionality within the benefit system for disabled people, homeless people and other vulnerable people, such as those with drug or alcohol dependency, should be paused
Read the full findings
We’ll be launching our final research findings this month. It’s the culmination of our five-year research into welfare conditionality, involving six universities and more than 600 respondents. Huge thanks to everyone who took part, it’s much appreciated.
The findings will be posted here on our website on Tuesday 22 May. We’re also holding events in London, Salford and Glasgow:
- The London event is on Tuesday 22 May, 4.30pm, in Portcullis House near the Houses of Parliament. We are grateful to York Central MP Rachael Maskell for sponsoring this event. To attend, please email our Project Manager firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Salford event is on Wednesday 18 July. To attend this event please email researcher Lisa Scullion L.Scullion@salford.ac.uk.
- For details of the Glasgow event please email us.
The latest edition of our newsletter, with details of the launch of our final findings; our international conference; Forces veterans report and blogs is out now. Sign up at the foot of this page to receive your copy.
The programme for our international conference on 26-28 June is now available. With more than 80 papers, plus top plenary speakers Professors Rik van Berkel and Jane Millar – and our WelCond research findings – this is a must-attend event. The first in a series of books based on WelCond research, Welfare Conditionality by Beth Watts and Suzanne Fitzpatrick, will also be launched at the conference.
Read the full programme
Book your place now (closing date 11 June)
The recommendation has been put forward in a Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT) funded report, entitled Sanctions, support and Service leavers: Social security benefits, welfare conditionality and transitions from military to civilian life released today.
The report, by the University of Salford and the University of York, details first wave findings from this major study, linked to WelCond, investigating the experiences of ex-Service personnel and the benefits system.
Read a blog by researchers Katy Jones and Lisa Scullion on the appropriateness of support being offered. And in a blog for The Conversation, the five-strong research team discuss their findings.
In this new guest post, a service user gives her experiences of the fear factor and the cumulative effects of welfare conditionality. She discusses the pincer effect of different conditions in the benefit system – and the mental and physical burden on benefit recipients. Read more
First wave findings launch
University of Salford | Room 3.10/3.11 | MediaCityUK | Salford M50 2HE
Thursday 19 April 2018 | 17.00 – 20.30
This event presents the first-wave findings of our longitudinal project funded by the Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT). This ground breaking project represents the first substantive research focusing specifically on veterans’ experiences of the social security benefits system in their transition to civilian life.
The event will include a presentation by the University of Salford and University of York research team, followed by a panel response including Dr Alan Barrett, Clinical Lead, Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust Military Veterans’ Service; Mark Knight, Armed Forces Lead, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP); and a representative of the Covenant Team from the Ministry of Defence.
As part of the project, we have also been working with Graphic Design students in the School of Arts and Media at the University of Salford. Delegates will also therefore have an opportunity to view some of the initial illustrations produced by the students based on anonymised excerpts from some of the interviews.
This event is free to attend, but registration is required for catering purposes. Please click here to register your attendance. If you have any questions about the event or the project please contact Dr Lisa Scullion: email@example.com
Much of the recent debate surrounding the controversial rollout of Universal Credit (UC) has focused on the six week wait for UC claimants to receive support. One core feature of UC that has been largely overlooked in this discussion, however, is the disciplinary role of sanctions and the various adverse impacts that they have on individuals. In this new blog, researcher Evan Williams shows how the rise of sanctioning in UK social security has transferred to the new system.
We’ve become aware that some academic colleagues may have had difficulty meeting our conference abstracts deadline of 28 February, because of the current industrial action. So we’ve extended the deadline to 5pm on Friday 9 March. Find full details of our call for papers here. Send your abstracts to the conference email address firstname.lastname@example.org. The dates for the international conference are 26-28 June 2018.
In this guest blog, specialist welfare rights advice practitioner and trainer Sarah Batty explores the impact of welfare reforms on social tenants in the North East. Her research looks at the discretionary powers of Jobcentre work coaches who administer the ‘personalised conditionality’ within the new Universal Credit. She explores the experiences of two women with health conditions who had also experienced benefit sanctions. Read her blog