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.
The report highlights the severely negative effects of sanctions, particularly on vulnerable groups. It cites our findings that lone parents and disabled people, for example, are highly motivated to work but prevented by a range of structural and/or personal barriers. The committee summarised evidence including our own on the effects of sanctions on disabled people as ‘at best ineffective, and worse, inappropriate and counterproductive’. For this reason we argue that sanctioning people with disabilities should be halted pending a more comprehensive review.
On in-work sanctioning under Universal Credit, the report cited our finding that ‘the idea of conditionality and sanctions leading to positive behaviour change was undermined when people felt they were sanctioned unfairly’. The committee concludes in-work conditionality and sanctions should not be applied until UC rollout is complete, and then only with robust evidence for its effectiveness.
Our project’s evidence was submitted by team members Professor Peter Dwyer from the University of York, Dr Sharon Wright from the University of Glasgow and Professor Lisa Scullion from the University of Salford. Evidence from our linked project Sanctions, Support and Service Leavers, funded by the Forces in Mind Trust, was also cited in the committee’s report.
Universal Credit lead Dr Sharon Wright said: ‘We welcome the Work & Pensions Committee report on Benefit Sanctions, which makes extensive use of our research evidence to show that benefit sanctions are far too harsh and yet ineffective. We found that the threat of harsh sanctions, as well as their application, caused deep and widespread harm.
‘However, jobs were not available for all who needed them and paid work was more of a moving target than a final destination.’
Our project Director Professor Peter Dwyer added: ‘We very much welcome this report’s focus on the impact of sanctions on people’s wellbeing. Our research found sanctions did not help people into work but did cause profoundly negative financial, personal and health outcomes that are likely to reduce the possibility of entry into paid work.
‘We are calling for a fundamental review of conditionality in the welfare system.’