United Kingdom: Study suggests that welfare conditionality does more harm than good
The Welfare Conditionality (WelCond) project recently released a report on how people receiving benefits in the UK experience welfare conditionality within a social security system. Welfare conditionality is where a person’s eligibility for benefits is dependent on meeting certain requirements, for example attending regular interviews, which will be taken away if a person does not meet the latter.
The study used longitudinal qualitative methodology to investigate the experience of people receiving welfare in the UK and the changes in their behaviour over time. Over five years, from 2013-2018, the study conducted 1082 qualitative longitudinal interviews with 481 people receiving welfare (including jobseekers, single parents, migrants, homeless people, and offenders who have left the judicial system), 52 semi-structured interviews with policy stakeholders and 27 focus groups with frontline welfare practitioners.
Longitudinal qualitative methodology enables researchers to gain an insight into people’s experience of and perspectives on welfare conditionality over a period of time. However, qualitative research does not enable the assessment of the effectiveness of welfare conditionality intervention on relevant outcomes (such as the motivation to work). Accordingly, the results of the study cannot be taken to show the effectiveness of welfare conditionality as an intervention but can be used to gain a greater understanding of the potential benefits and harms of this practice.
The results of the study indicated that benefit sanctions do little to enhance people’s motivation to prepare for, seek, or enter paid work. On the contrary, in some cases the imposition of benefits sanctions led to feelings of reduced motivation and disengagement with the social security system. Welfare conditionality was viewed to be largely ineffective in facilitating people’s entry into paid labour market or in sustaining employment. Participants often reported a lack of change or sustained change in employment status, where they shifted between short-term, insecure, and low paid jobs, and periods of receiving benefits. Additionally, welfare conditionality and benefit sanctions were reported to be connected to negative material outcomes such as poverty, increased debt and loss of tenancy, and increased reliance on charitable providers and informal support networks. Welfare conditionality was also reported as being associated with negative health outcomes including fear, anxiety and psychological distress, and as exacerbating existing health conditions, in particular in people with mental health issues.
The study also indicated that the current support provided often did not help people looking for work and that the provision of personalised, holistic support could be more effective in helping people to gain and retain employment. This was noted as a potential facilitator to increase motivation to prepare for, seek and enter work, and to enable people to overcome personal and structural barriers to work.
The authors of the study concluded that the perceived benefits of welfare conditionality to increase motivation to work did not outweigh the potential drawbacks and recommended a trial of conditionality-free benefits for those looking for work and the removal of benefit sanctions for people receiving incapacity benefit for existing health conditions. As an alternative to welfare conditionality, the authors recommended that personalised, holistic employment support should be given to help people enter the job market.
More information at:
Welfare Conditionality, “Final findings report – Welfare Conditionality Report 2013-2018”, Welfare Conditionality, June 2018