Study highlights the negative impact of benefit sanctions
by Graham Whitham
A major study launched last week confirmed what many of us already knew, benefit sanctions are an ineffective means of getting people into work and can have severe negative consequences for those they are used against. The study, which brought together academics and researchers from several universities, tracked claimants over a five-year period and found that sanctions reduce people’s motivation to search for work and hurt people mentally, physically and financially.
The findings run counter to government rhetoric which has argued greater conditionality has helped to push benefit claimants into employment. The study argues that where people have moved into work over recent years, it is much more likely to be the result of personalised employment support than sanctions. For people with complex needs or in particularly difficult situations (people with addictions or experiencing homelessness), sanctions act to push people out of the benefits system (‘dropping out’). The consequence is people resorting to crime as a means of getting by and leaves them further removed from the help and support they need to move into employment and out of poverty.
The UK’s social security system has long had elements of compliance and conditionality, but the intensity of these elements has increased considerably over the last six years. The use of sanctions has fallen from a peak in 2013/14 perhaps because of the growing realisation of the damaging impact of their use. However, despite the findings of the ESRC funded study, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) continues to argue that sanctions are an effective means of moving people into employment.
Many anti-poverty campaigners argued strongly against social security reforms during the first few years of this decade and have continued to do so. Campaigners warned of the consequences of an increasingly punitive and pernicious benefit sanctions regime.
Those warnings weren’t heeded by government, unfairly dismissed as the usual suspects making the same old arguments. As unresponsive as government may choose to be to the calls of campaigners, policy must be much more responsive to research and evidence. Now this study, sitting along other pieces of work, hammers home the failings of current policy and its findings must be responded to if the long-term goal is to support people into suitable and decent work and onto sustainable pathways out of poverty.
It is often said the UK leads the way when it comes to evidence and data about the population and our universities lead the way on various aspects of social policy. We have no shortage of knowledge and evidence, but for the potential of this expertise to be realised, central government policy needs to be much more evidence based and responsive when research findings highlight policy failings. If central government in Westminster won’t heed this call, then we need think about what opportunities there are in Greater Manchester to develop evidence based social policy at a city regional level.