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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

About Hannah Trippier

Hannah Trippier has written 6 articles.

The views expressed in this Op-Ed piece are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of Basic Income News or BIEN. BIEN and Basic Income News do not endorse any particular policy, but Basic Income News welcomes discussion from all points of view in its Op-Ed section.

One comment

  • Optimal Universal Basic Income & Single Payor Insurance

    With just ONE easy way to oversee restriction, UBI and Medicare for ALL can work well and based on Karl Widerquist’s theory can largely self-fund itself.

    Both the health care exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act and Medicare for All provide health insurance for the uninsured. However, the exchanges leave power in the hands of private insurance companies. Medicare for All takes power away from those companies and puts it in the hands of a public agency that is accountable to the public. BUT that public agency needs to require personal responsibility for what we stick in our mouth while realizing that the dollar profit system creates and pays for the ads that sell the mostly lifeless foods on mass media. Special interests in DC tip the scales toward the profit motives of the those companies. To hell with health.
    The concept behind UBI is appealing in its simplicity — everyone should be entitled to a-no-strings attached minimum income. Those receiving this income are not required to report on their financial circumstances or on how they spend their money.

    Neither are they required to attend job-seeker workshops or any other government initiative designed to try and make people ‘work ready’ as is currently the norm within many welfare systems.

    Free Cash For Doing Nothing?
    While it might sound absurd, before you dismiss the scheme as a good recipe for disincentivising the need for work and encouraging laziness, consider the following.

    In the developing world providing people with a basic income has proven to be an effective method for poverty alleviation, ( leading institutions such as the World Bank and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to advocate for continued testing and implementation of basic income schemes.

    The Prettier The Package The More Suspect The Food.
    The one flaw I see for the USA is to include a limitation for using the money for unhealthy foods. The UBI can only be used for the foods we know are healthy such as organic fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, and raw seeds and nuts. The plan could be phased in increasing the UBI amount over 20 years to allow for educating people around proper cooking and storage. TV is slowly using losing its media power to the internet. This will help offset ads that sell the mostly lifeless foods on mass media and greatly reduce the trillion dollars spent on the chronic illness aspect of healthcare.
    Many Corporations Who Self-Fund Insurance
    were a $million or more behind. They $bonused and incentivized sick & overweight to change diets & exercise & in 1 year their self-insurance funds had huge $surpluses. Message? Eat right & you heal faster & DON’T GET SICK. Eat wrong-GET AND STAY SICK
    Reducing Prescribed Drug Costs Is Absurd.
    They treat symptoms not causes. Reduce USAGE by 90%: take responsibility for what U eat; no fried or packaged foods, pizza, dairy, red meat, TV ads & eat a mostly plant-based diet. ONLY THEN yes on Single Pay and UBI.
    Add the savings from healthcare to a small changes here and there in taxation and you have the funding needed.
    All entitlements come with certain requirements of those entitled. The requirement for UBI and Single Payor is to eat properly and exercise. That’s it. To not do this will simply allow the drug, packaged food industry, politicians and TV stations to divert the money for themselves.
    Food waste needs to be addressed as well but that is a bonus that will improve the numbers
    Michael Grant White

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