Researchers say benefits sanctions should not be imposed on veterans

Posted on 27 June 2019

A new study linked to Welfare Conditionality has revealed that ex-service personnel with physical and mental health problems are struggling to navigate a ‘baffling’ benefits system.

Researchers from the University of York and the University of Salford conducted 120 interviews with ex-service personnel and found the need for greater understanding of veterans’ complex needs and suggests that sanctions are not the answer.

Participants in the study were found to have insecure employment, with several struggling with debts and rent arrears, and some resorting to food banks or ‘going through the bins’. Others live with embarrassment, shame and resentment at a system they call unfair and bewildering.

Universal Credit (UC) appeared to have introduced a further layer of complexity and received damning criticism from respondents leaving the Armed Forces and their families.

The report, funded by Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT), titled Sanctions, support and Service leavers: Social security benefits and transitions from military to civilian life, launched 18 June, at an event in the House of Lords.

This is the first major study investigating the experiences of ex-service personnel navigating the benefits system. The research makes 12 recommendations, which include the need for:

  • The system to ensure that benefit sanctions are not applied to those Veterans experiencing mental and physical health impairments resulting from Service in the Armed Forces.
  • An urgent review of the assessment process applied to those claiming working-age incapacity benefits, to ensure assessors are qualified to assess the health needs of people leaving the Armed Forces.
  • For the DWP to ensure that Armed Forces background is consistently recorded by Work Coaches to ensure appropriate tracking of the needs of individual veterans and their progress through the system.
  • Each Job centre to have one designated individual who takes a lead in supporting the ex-service community.
  • Guidance on the UK social security system to be included as part of the transitional support for those leaving the Armed Forces.
  • More profoundly negative impacts on individuals and their families came from the threat of benefit sanctions for non-compliance with conditions imposed by the Jobcentre Plus. Some, rather than being supported by the State were reliant on military charities, and third-party organisations like housing associations.

Ray Lock, Chief Executive, Forces in Mind Trust, said: “The evidence from this study clearly shows the need for identification and understanding of the complex needs of the minority ex-service community who are in need of welfare support.

“The majority of ex-service personnel make a successful transition back to civilian life; for the few who encounter difficulty, we need to ensure that consistent signposting to relevant support services is achieved and the benefits system is easier to navigate.”

Professor Lisa Scullion, Associate Director of the Sustainable Housing and Urban Studies Unit at the University of Salford, who is leading the project, said: “Allowances are made to veterans who claim benefits as part of the Armed Forces Covenant, but until now very little has been known about their experiences within the benefits system. We found people who desperately did not want to claim benefits and only did so as a last resort, but who found the system baffling and had been given little preparation for dealing with it.

“It was evident that some of our participants struggled with adjusting to the precarious labour market that we have today. But also, to then have to confront some of the conditions attached to benefit receipt is a shock for people.

“Yes, there is significant good practice within the DWP and notably among their Armed Forces Champions, but the variation across geographical areas and even within Job centres is worrying.”

Professor Peter Dwyer, University of York, added:  “This important study highlights the issues that service leavers making the transition from military to civilian often face in their interactions with the UK’s social security benefit system and sets out a number  of recommendations for improving provision for veterans in the future”.

Read the full report.

View graphic novel of veterans’ experiences.