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  • Author or Editor: Alasdair Stewart x
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Moving disabled people ‘off benefits and into work’ has been an explicit aim of work-first welfare reform since 2008, increasingly punitively since 2010. The aim of this article is to demonstrate, for the first time, how Universal Credit (UC) fits with and intensifies that strategy. Empirical data from 28 in-depth interviews with 19 claimants (nine were interviewed twice) and three focus groups with 23 Jobcentre staff show how UC full service applies mainstream job search conditionality to people with mental health problems. Ongoing fear of sanctions, financial hardship, surveillance and social isolation relating to digital design had adverse impacts, including for those without previous mental health problems.

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This paper highlights and explores how conditionality operating at three levels (the EU supranational level, the UK national level and in migrants’ mundane ‘street level’ encounters with social security administrators), come together to restrict and have a negative impact on the social rights of EU migrants living in the UK. Presenting analysis of new data generated in repeat qualitative interviews with 49 EU migrants resident in the UK, the paper makes an original contribution to understanding how the conditionality inherent in macro level EU and UK policy has seriously detrimental effects on the everyday lives of individual EU migrants.

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Chapter 8 draws together the evidence and discussions presented in the preceding chapters. It is concluded that the imposition of behavioural conditionality as the preferred solution to complex social issues deflects our gaze away from the ideological and structural factors that are fundamental to understanding and responding to the poverty and other inequalities that continue to blight societies. Welfare conditionality is punitive, undermines the promise of social citizenship, sets vulnerable people up to fail and serves individuals with multiple and complex needs particularly badly. Furthermore, it is counterproductive, ineffective and unethical. It is therefore time to end the misguided obsession with behaviour change and focus on promoting meaningful employment support, genuine social security and greater equality.

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Sanctions Support and Behaviour Change

Should a citizen’s right to social welfare be contingent on their personal behaviour?

Welfare conditionality, linking citizens’ eligibility to social benefits and services to prescribed compulsory responsibilities or behaviours, has become a key component of welfare reform in many nations.

This book uses qualitative longitudinal data from repeat interviews with people subject to compulsion and sanction in their everyday lives to analyse the effectiveness and ethicality of welfare conditionality in promoting and sustaining behaviour change in the UK.

Given the negative outcomes that welfare conditionality routinely triggers, this book calls for the abandonment of these sanctions and reiterates the importance of genuinely supportive policies that promote social security and wider equality.

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This chapter initially defines the concept of welfare conditionality within a discussion of the competing principles and normative positions used to justify, or oppose, the provision of collectivised welfare provisions. It argues that the ascendency and consolidation of the principle and practices of welfare conditionality, internationally, is linked to the foregrounding of contractualism and activation inherent in ongoing reforms in many diverse, contemporary national welfare states. It is concluded that welfare conditionality reconfigures and diminishes the notion of social citizenship.

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This chapter outlines and discusses the increasing prominence of welfare conditionality within the UK welfare state. Concentrating mainly on key policies initiated since the mid-1990s, discussions in this chapter outline developments in relation to the implementation of welfare conditionality in three substantive areas of the UK welfare state, namely: social security; social housing; and the management of ‘antisocial behaviour’ among groups of citizens variously labelled as problematic or vulnerable. The chapter locates the intensification and extension of behavioural conditionality within the wider context of policies that have delivered austerity, welfare state retrenchment and devolution since 2010.

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Conditional welfare interventions are regarded as important instruments of behaviour change by many governments. This chapter offers an overview of economic and psychological theories on behaviour change that influence the thinking of contemporary policymakers. A consideration of the conceptualisation of agency and behaviour within the welfare conditionality literature and the relevance of different policy tools (that is, sanction, support, sermons and nudges) that policymakers use when attempting to change the behaviour of those reliant on social welfare benefits and services is offered in the second section. The third section reviews existing evidence on the effectiveness of welfare conditionality, in either moving those reliant on social welfare benefits into paid work or promoting the cessation of problematic behaviour among sections of the population.

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Initially, the differing welfare/work trajectories of those who took part in repeat interviews are mapped. Subsequent discussions draw upon in-depth, longitudinal case studies to enable a more nuanced understanding of how, and why, welfare conditionality structures diverse work-related outcomes for different people, over time. The effectiveness benefit sanctions, and mandatory engagement with work-related activity in moving people into, or nearer, paid employment are considered. The significance of the exercise discretionary powers by street level bureaucrats in triggering both positive and negative outcomes for benefit claimants is also addressed. The final section explores how the introduction of ‘in-work’ conditionality, as a core component of Universal Credit, has impacted the lives and work opportunities of low-paid workers.

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Chapter 5 begins by focusing on the tensions between care and control that are inherent within highly conditional welfare interventions. Presenting analysis of further longitudinal case studies this chapter explores the efficacy and impacts of welfare conditionality in addressing antisocial behaviour among vulnerable people with complex/multiple issues (for example, impairment, substance addiction and homelessness). The differential outcomes of family intervention policies are also considered. The notion of ‘compound conditionality’ is then defined. Discussions here focus on how welfare conditionality, when implemented separately within distinct policy areas (for example, social security benefits, antisocial behaviour interventions, social housing policy), often intersect to impact negatively on individuals who are simultaneously subject to behavioural requirements in more than one aspect of their lives.

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