Welfare conditionality in lived experience: aggregating qualitative longitudinal research

Sharon Wright, Ruth Patrick

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Punitive welfare conditionality, combining tough sanctions with minimal self-directed support, is a defining feature of contemporary UK working age social security provision. This approach has been justified by policy makers on the basis that it will increase the numbers in paid employment, and thereby offering savings for the public purse that are also beneficial for individuals who are expected to be healthier and better off financially as a result. In this article, we aggregate two qualitative longitudinal studies (Welfare Conditionality, 2014-17; and Lived Experience, 2011-16) that document lived experiences of claiming benefits and using back-to-work support services. In both studies and over time, we find, contrary to policy expectations, that coercion, including sanctions, was usually experienced as unnecessary and harmful and that poverty was prevalent, both in and out of work, tended to worsen and pushed many close to destitution. Conditionality governed encounters with employment services and, perversely, appeared to impede, rather than support, transitions into employment for participants in both studies. In this way, we propose Combined Study Qualitative Longitudinal Research as a new methodological approach for investigating if ‘shared typical’ aspects of lived experiences of welfare conditionality can be identified.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)597-613
JournalSocial Policy and Society
Issue number4
Early online date31 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2019

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© Cambridge University Press 2019 This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details.


  • welfare conditionality, lived experience, sanctions, qualitative longitudinal research

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