Welfare Conditionality final research findings

The final findings papers for the Welfare Conditionality project, that I was a Researcher and NVivo Lead on, have been published today. As covered in The Guardian, Benefit sanctions [were] found to be ineffective and damaging.

From the Guardian article:

Benefit sanctions are ineffective at getting jobless people into work and are more likely to reduce those affected to poverty, ill-health or even survival crime, the UK’s most extensive study of welfare conditionality has found.

The five-year exercise tracking hundreds of claimants concludes that the controversial policy of docking benefits as punishment for alleged failures to comply with jobcentre rules has been little short of disastrous.

“Benefit sanctions do little to enhance people’s motivation to prepare for, seek or enter paid work. They routinely trigger profoundly negative personal, financial, health and behavioural outcomes,” the study concludes.

The Canary has also covered the findings reporting that – The latest news on the DWP has left its reputation in tatters.

From the article:

A groundbreaking study, conducted over five years, has left the reputation and operating practices of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in tatters. Specifically, the report’s authors heap criticism on one part of the department’s operations: the benefit sanctions regime. But a standout point from the report was that the DWP should [pdf, p12] “cease” applying sanctions to disabled people.

[…] The Welfare Conditionality project (2013-2018) was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. ‘Conditionality’ is the idea that people who receive benefits should have to meet certain requirements, such as applying for jobs, or lose their payments. A ‘sanction’, in this context, means the withdrawal of benefits, normally for a fixed period. 

As well as the Overview paper there are separate briefings for the nine policy areas covered in the research –

Anti-social behaviour and family interventions

Disabled people



Lone parents



Social housing (fixed-term tenancies)

Universal Credit

Failure to Justify: The absence of a ‘natural situation’ with benefit sanction decisions

Copy of the slides for my presentation on Tuesday 10th April 2018 at the British Sociological Association’s Annual Conference.


UK welfare reform has seen sanctions become a crucial form of punishment for claimants who are judged to have failed to meet behavioural conditions. Drawing on data from an ESRC-funded study (2013-2018) of the efficacy and ethicality of welfare conditionality in England and Scotland (see: www.welfareconditioanality.ac.uk), the paper explores the ethical arguments made by 207 participants who reported experiencing one or more sanctions. These arguments are to be explored through Boltanski and Thévenot’s (2006) theory of justification, in detailing how participants justified / critiqued sanction decisions through reference to different models of justice. In making their argument, participants often pointed to sanction decisions not being a ‘natural situation’, one which has a clear flow to events in accordance with general principles. Participants reported being unaware their actions were sanctionable, felt that deferring sanction decisions to a ‘decision maker’ disempowered them, and that there was a haste to sanction without adequate opportunity to provide explanation. More broadly, the sanctions system was critiqued for having an industrial model of service provision, where claimants are ‘just a number’, and there being a lack of a civic ethos throughout the system. This pervasive sense of injustice, despite the acceptance amongst a significant number of participants of the general principles of conditionality, brings into question whether the current sanctions system is compatible with the criteria required to be a justifiable order. The paper will therefore also reconsider the debates between pragmatic and critical sociologies, particularly the importance of symbolic forms of domination and violence.