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Joint research by Sheffield Hallam University into “welfare conditionality” in the UK, has found benefit sanctions are largely ineffective and may push people into poverty and crime.

As part of the WelCond project, led by York University in collaboration with the Universities of Sheffield Hallam, Glasgow, Sheffield, Salford,  and Heriot-Wat, academics analysed the effectiveness, impact and ethics of welfare conditionality from 2013-2018.

Welfare conditionality links eligibility for welfare benefits and services to responsibilities or particular patterns of behaviour, under threat of sanction for non-compliance. It has been a key element of welfare state reform in many countries since the mid-1990s.

Supporters say the use of sanctions and support is an effective way of weaning people off benefits and into paid work, or addressing anti-social behaviour.

However, critics argue that behavioural conditionality is largely ineffective in promoting paid employment and personal responsibility, and is likely to exacerbate social exclusion among disadvantaged populations.

The findings are based on repeat longitudinal interviews undertaken with 339 people in England and Scotland and drawn from nine policy areas, including Universal Credit, disabled people, migrants, lone parents, offenders and homeless people.

Key findings include:

  • Little evidence welfare conditionality enhanced people’s motivation to prepare for or enter paid work
  • Some people pushed into destitution, survival crime and ill health
  •  Benefit sanctions routinely triggered profoundly negative personal, financial and health outcomes
  • The mandatory training and support is often too generic, of poor quality and largely ineffective in enabling people to enter and sustain paid work

Professor Del Roy Fletcher, from Sheffield Hallam

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The report quotes an ex-offender who says he was forced into survival crime as a result of benefit sanctions: ''I had to go and do things I didn't want to do…..because 13 weeks with no money and food vouchers…'s commercial burglaries basically.''

The authors of the report say it is time for a “comprehensive review” of the use of welfare conditionality.

Professor Del Roy Fletcher, from Sheffield Hallam's Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research said: “Significant levels of recidivism within the criminal justice system underline the limited success of sanctions based regimes in triggering positive change behaviour among offenders. Given this, the effectiveness of their extension and intensification within the social security system is further brought into question."

Key recommendations include:

  • Reduce the severity of sanctions
  • Job search support and employment and skills training need to be significantly improved
  • The wider application of welfare conditionality within the benefit system for disabled people, homeless people and other vulnerable people, such as those with drug or alcohol dependency, should be paused

For press information: Andrea Ruttan in the Sheffield Hallam University press office on 0114 225 3244 or email