‘INTIMIDATING, dehumanising and disempowering” - welfare claimants have “universally negative” views of the sanctions system, research has found.

Initial results of a major research project into social security in Scotland will be debated at the Scottish Parliament today.

The study, co-produced by Glasgow and Heriot-Watt universities alongside four English institutions, uncovered “profoundly negative” experiences among a range of welfare users, including single parents, disabled people and ex-offenders.

Users told researchers the conditions placed upon them caused depression and anxiety, pushed them below the breadline and even stopped them from finding jobs – even though the policy was created to get people off benefits and into work.

Those affected told how they had to turn to foodbanks or even “survival crime”, such as shoplifting and fiddling power meters to heat and light their homes.

The research also calls into question the assumption that the existing regime leads to behaviour-change, instead finding that the common thread linking successful transitions into work was the availability of appropriate support, not “punitive” sanctions.

Dr Sharon Wright of Glasgow University said: “Our research highlighted a sanctions regime that was failing by even its own standards and fatally undermines the argument that conditionality leads to positive behaviour change – with many people not even knowing why they have been sanctioned in the first place, it’s highly unlikely to lead to a positive outcome.

“Instead, we see people being pushed away from available support, often with grave consequences for themselves and their families. While conducting the research, we heard often deeply distressing testimonies from those impacted by sanctions, with people often turning to crime to survive.”

Researchers found the struggle to meet the requirements set by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and fear of sanctions “negated the opportunities for achieving positive behaviour change”, such as improved timekeeping.

The sanctions regime, branded “intimidating, dehumanising and disempowering”, was found to be

“especially problematic” for those with caring responsibilities, illness, addiction or language problems.

During the project, one woman affected by sanctions told researchers she would “go into shops and steal whatever just to make do”, adding: “I used to rig my meter when I had my house.”

Meanwhile, a father revealed how he kept his daughter off school for a fortnight because he did not have money for lunch or her bus fare.

A disabled claimant described the set-up as “torture” and a single parent said: “I was without heating for ages. I pawned everything I had. You’re literally going, ‘do I eat or do I have light?’”

Some disabled respondents hit out at a “one-size fits all” approach that did not fully consider their circumstances, while offenders expressed a need for vocational training, which was not offered.

The report did uncover “some examples of good practice and mandatory support helping people to improve their work or personal situations”.

However, it said: “Evidence of conditionality working to move people nearer to paid work was rare but not entirely absent.”

Ahead of the debate, Glasgow Kelvin MSP Sandra White said: “The Tory Government approach to benefit claimants is to presume guilt and to punish disproportionately.

“Not only does this fail to help jobseekers find work, but it puts many people in the position where they’re simply penniless, which is why food bank providers identify sanctions as one of the key drivers for their growth.

“An immediate and urgent review is needed of the claimant conditionality and sanction regime and sanctions should be paused until this is done.”

The DWP says sanctions are “an important part” of the benefits system and “it is right that they are in place for those few who do not fulfill their commitment to find work”.

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