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.’
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.
Professor Dwyer then appeared in a live interview with Josh Szeps on ABC Radio Sydney’s primetime Drive programme. They discussed remedies to the problems of welfare conditionality, including the need for appropriate support to benefit recipients, and potential changes to the nature of work and welfare.
Our research findings are here. Hear the live interview (scroll to 2hr 10min).
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, they detail 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.
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.