Scottish Parliament debates Welfare Conditionality project

Posted on 1 December 2016

Scottish Parliament held a debate on the issues raised by the projects first wave of findings.

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The Welfare Conditionality project has a team of researchers from six universities including  Professor Peter Dwyer  (SPSW), the team are studying conditional welfare in the UK. The project focuses on two main situations. One where people’s access to welfare is restricted or stopped – for example, by benefit sanctions or rules. The second is welfare support – for example, through family intervention projects or help to find work. Generally with these kinds of sanctions and support, governments aim to get people to change their behaviour. We’re looking into all the effects of sanctions and support on people’s lives.

This month the Scottish Parliament held a one-hour debate on the issues raised by our project’s first wave findings on social security.

The debate was instigated by Sandra White MSP, Convener of the parliament’s Social Security Committee. She tabled a motion to the parliament noting with concern our first wave findings, including:

‘Universally-negative experiences of conditionality, which it reported as creating both “widespread anxiety and feelings of disempowerment” among service users and leading some people to turn to crime in order to survive because of the sanctions that they faced.’

The motion ‘recognises the report’s conclusion that the common thread linking stories of successful transition to work was the availability of individual support rather than the threat of sanctions; notes that the report includes what it considers to be deeply disturbing service users’ accounts of the conditionality; understands that some described the system as “intimidating, dehumanising and disempowering”; congratulates the University of Glasgow and the other researchers on what it considers to be its important work, and looks forward to the next wave of findings being published.’

During the debate, numerous MSPs raised key points from the findings, including:
·         Sanctions often came as a shock without warning, with many of our interviewees believing they had been compliant
·         Loss of income through sanctioning was usually disproportionate to the ‘crime’, ie, having no money for food for a whole month because of being five minutes late for an appointment
·         The material impact of sanctions, both in terms of short-term crisis and long-term paying off of debt: sanctions can result in rent arrears, eviction threats and homelessness
·         There were very few cases where sanctions ‘worked’.

Notes to editors:

The story was covered in The National and the Daily Record.

The official transcript of the debate can be found here. Watch the video on Scottish Parliament TV.

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More infromation on the project can be found at the Welfare Conditionality website.