Welfare sanctions and conditionality in the UK

Beth Watts et al
11th Sep 2014

How effective and ethical are conditional forms of welfare?

Conditional welfare arrangements require people to behave in a certain way to access cash benefits, housing or support services.

These conditions tend to be enforced through penalties or ‘sanctions’ that reduce, suspend or end access to these goods.

This Round-up considers how effective welfare conditionality is, what the impacts are, how different groups fare, and to what extent it can be morally justified.

It finds that:

  • benefit sanctions are disproportionately affecting young people under 25, and there is evidence of severe impacts on homeless people and other vulnerable groups;
  • international evidence indicates that benefit sanctions substantially raise exits from benefits, and may increase short-term job entry; but there are unfavourable longer-term outcomes for earnings, job quality and employment retention;
  • there are concerns that welfare conditionality can have unintended consequences, including: distancing people from support; causing hardship and even destitution; displacing rather than resolving issues such as street homelessness and anti-social behaviour; and negative impacts on ‘third parties’, particularly children.
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