UK Parliament Committee session on the effectiveness of benefit sanctions

Published: 31 May 2023

Serena Pattaro provided oral evidence during a session of the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committe

On Wednesday 10 May 2023 Dr Serena Pattaro provided oral evidence during a session of the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee on the effectiveness of benefit sanctions . This was a one-off (non-enquiry) session that the Committee held following the recent publication of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)’s draft report on the impacts of benefit sanctions on employment outcomes. The report was published after much effort, including a number of requests under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act 2000, which were rejected. The DWP draft report was only released after a formal instruction issued by the Information Commissioner in early March 2023. More information about the circumstances leading to the publication of the DWP draft are reported in a commentary by David Webster, University of Glasgow, published by Child Poverty Action Group and a number of media articles[1].

During the session, Serena pointed out that the DWP draft report was largely in agreement with the results from a major scoping review of the internationational quantitative evidence on the impacts of benefit sanctions, which she led in collaboration with colleagues from the the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, and previously attracted some media and political coverage. Their review covered 94 studies, of which two thirds reported labour market outcomes, showing that benefit sanctions do increase the rates of return to work in the short term, but they do so at the expense of pushing people to take lower quality jobs with lower earnings and stability, and increased risk of moving back into unemployment. Benefit sanctions also increase the chances that people will leave the labour market by moving into economic inactivity.

Serena drew attention to the importance of investigating the long-term impacts of benefit sanctions. The scoping review study shows that there are long-lasting consequences of benefit sanctions, in terms of higher risks of moving into lower quality jobs and decreased chances of finding regular or stable employment. In addition to labour market outcomes, there is also a wide range of adverse impacts for claimants and their children. For example, sanctions were associated with an increase in material hardship, including the experience of food deprivation and financial hardships, but also increasing health problems for claimants and their children. There was also some evidence of an increase in child maltreatment and behavioural problems, as well as lower school attendance rates.

Following the oral evidence session, Serena was delighted to see a letter that Sir Stephen Timms MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee has written to Mel Stride MP, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. The letter calls on DWP to provide a reason why the Department has not been able to share their data on benefit sanctions with external researchers. The letter refers directly to a wider research project, in which Serena has been involved as part of a team at the Scottish Centre for Administrative Data Research (SCADR). The project, of which the scoping review study is part of, was developed jointly with colleagues at DWP to address some of the Department’s areas of research interest. The project aimed to use linked administrative data to evaluate the health impacts of benefit sanctions for claimants on both legacy benefits and Universal Credit. After receiving Ministerial approval under Esther McVey MP in April 2018, the project team experienced a number of delays which led DWP opting to seek renewed committment from the Minister, then Therese Coffey MP, who overturned the previous decision in July 2022. Serena is looking forward to the publication of the Department's response to the Work and Pensions Committee's letter, and hopes that this will help to advance data sharing for research in this area. She feels that the use of linked administrative data has the potential to provide a stronger evidence base to help develop future policies.

First published: 31 May 2023

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