Do Benefit Sanctions Cause More Negative Consequences Than Positive?

Maddy White
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A study has revealed that benefit sanctions may not be the most effective way to help claimants get back in to work.

In the UK sanctions are enforced when claimants break jobcentre rules by either failing to apply to enough jobs or not turning up to appointments. This results in benefit payments being stopped for a minimum period of four weeks and up to a maximum of three years.

A five-year study on benefit-docking has concluded that sanctions are ineffective at getting jobless people employed, and that these individuals are then more likely to be affected by poverty and ill-health. Is the benefit-docking system fit for purpose?

Photo via Wikimedia

For your benefit?

The Welfare Conditionality project which ran from 2013 to 2018, found that “benefit sanctions, and the threat of them, resulted overwhelmingly in negative impacts.” It concluded that claimants find the system “counterproductive” and that it “prioritised compliance with meaningless activities that were ineffective for finding work.”

Welfare conditionality is the concept that access to benefits and or services, should be linked to claimants’ behaviour and ability to follow rules. Whilst the idea of welfare conditionality could be debated and the negative impacts found by the report are unintentional, it doesn’t justify that complying to the rules is potentially being favoured over helping people.

The study examined benefit-docking in nine different policy areas including; disabled people, lone parents, jobseekers and the homeless.

Dalia Ben-Galim, Policy Director for lone parent charity, Gingerbread said: “This research adds more weight to what Gingerbread has heard from single parents through our own research. We know that single parents want to work and provide for their children but many are being subjected to unfair sanctions that punish them for factors outside of their control, such as a lack of flexible work or affordable childcare.”

She added that the insistence of a “tick-box approach” to sanctions “fails to recognise the barriers to work faced by single parents and can actually push parents away from entering work. And this may yet get worse with parents of pre-school aged children now obliged to look for work or risk being sanctioned.”

Disabled people reported receiving little significant support in their meetings with Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA) advisers. One disabled person quoted on the document said: “ Absolutely fair. Everybody that can work, I think they have a right to work and be encouraged to work but, equally, there are some people that aren’t fit to work.”

Esther McVey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. photo via wikimedia


In contrast to the report’s findings, a spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said, “Our research shows that over 70% of JSA claimants say sanctions make it more likely they will comply with reasonable and agreed requirements, and it is understandable that people meet certain expectations in return for benefits.”

The Department for work and Pensions (DWP) also added that they do reflect specific needs of claimants. “We tailor requirements to individual cases and sanctions are only used in a very small percentage of cases when people fail to meet their agreed requirements set out in their claimant commitment.”

In the unlikely cases where claimants did undertake work and move off of benefits, researchers found the key solution was more personalised job support over sanctions. The Welfare Conditionality project also uncovered that jobcentres were more occupied with enforcing benefit rules – with some exceptions –  than helping people gain employment.

The benefit-docking system needs to counter the threat of sanctions with the proviso that there will be adequate and personalised job support.

While the negative outcomes reported in the study are unintentional and the DWP research questions some of the findings; the evidence does indicte that the current system of benefit sanctions isn’t necessarily helping claimants to be financially independent or to get onto the job ladder.


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