The Impacts of Benefit Sanctions - Review article

Published: 27 April 2022

The findings of the article, written by SPS colleagues, have led to a Scottish Parliament debate and an open letter to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

A review article on the impacts of benefit sanctions has shown that sanctions do increase the rates of return to work, but they do so at the expense of pushing people to take lower quality jobs with, for example, lower earnings and lower stability or increased risks of returning to unemployment. Benefit sanctions also increase the chances that people will leave the labour market by moving into economic inactivity. 'The Impacts of Benefit Sanctions: A Scoping Review of the Quantitative Research Evidence' also highlights a range of adverse impacts, such as increased material hardship, health problems and poorer child wellbeing.

Based on the results of the review article, written by SPS' Dr Serena Pattaro, Professor Nick Bailey, Professor Mark Tranmer, Evan Williams and colleagues from the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, Kaukab Steward MSP lodged a Motion on sanctions policies and led a Scottish parliamentary debate on the matter, which took place on Thursday 31 March. 

The debate resulted in an open letter signed by Kaukab Stewart and 30 MSPs, and addressed to Thérèse Coffey MP, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. The letter called on the DWP to release anonymised sanctions data to the School's research team to enable an independent analysis of the health impacts of benefit sanctions.

Research Fellow, Serena Pattaro, said: “In addition to some positive labour market outcomes, our review of the international quantitative research evidence showed that sanctions had important harmful effects not only for adult claimants but also for their families and children. For example, sanctions were associated with increased material hardship, including food deprivation and financial hardship, and increased health problems. We also found some evidence of poorer child well-being, including increased foster-care placement and poorer school attendance.”

“Last but not least, our review highlights that there is an urgent need of more studies to inform our understanding of the wider impacts of sanctions using more robust research designs such as quasi-experimental methods. A stronger commitment from policy makers to improve the evidence base in this area would be highly beneficial for society.”

“This research is part of a UKRI ESRC-funded quantitative project on Assessing the impact of benefit sanctions on health. I am grateful for the support provided by Kaukab Stewart and her 30 MSP colleagues in their open letter to the DWP Minister. The DWP sharing their individual-level data on sanctions histories for linkage with Scottish health records will enable important ground-breaking research into the health impacts of sanctions which is very much needed, as the quantitative evidence in this area is still unclear. This research will also contribute to paving the way for future data shares and collaborations."

First published: 27 April 2022

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