Sanctions ineffective as a way of getting people into jobs or to work more hours, finds suppressed DWP report

Wed,12 April 2023
News Benefits
In 2019, the DWP commissioned its own internal research on the effectiveness of benefit sanctions and promised to make the findings public.

However, it subsequently buried the report and refused requests for it to be released, as the study was “not in the public interest”.

This decision was then contested by sanctions expert David Webster of the University of Glasgow, who appealed to the Information Commissioner after the DWP rejected his freedom of information request

In March, the Commissioner issued a ruling for publication, concluding that “there is a particularly strong public interest in scrutiny and understanding of the information available to those deciding whether to continue with a controversial policy such as sanctioning benefits.”

The now published DWP report concludes that:

  • while sanctions reduce the duration of a claimant's spell on universal credit, this is driven by increased exit rates into non-PAYE employment or economic inactivity
  • exit rates into PAYE employment decrease as a result of sanctions
  • sanctions do not lead to large shifts in job-finding rates, and tend to shift people towards lower-paying work that changes their universal credit work group without ending their benefit claim.

Significantly, the report goes on to reveal the policy intent of sanctions is not primarily the negative financial impact of a sanction on an individual  claimant  as “this excludes the wider role of a sanction, which acts to incentivise compliance with a conditionality regime that encourages work search and earnings increases.

The study continues: “Indeed, the policy intent of sanctions policy is not to sanction claimants but to encourage claimants to comply with their requirements by creating a consequence if they do not.

“Any question about the appropriate strictness of a sanction, to encourage work search whilst preserving as far as possible the insurance principles of benefit receipt, should take this into account.”

Ken Butler DR UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Adviser said: “There has been no research that finds that the conditionality and sanctions regime helps disabled people.

“The Work and Pensions Committee of MPs found two years ago that not only is there no evidence that the DWP’s benefit conditionality sanctions system works but that “worse, it is harmful and counterproductive.”

“Just last year, the Public Law Project warned that the system for challenging benefit sanctions “poses significant harm to the health, finances, and well-being of claimants”.

“The newly revealed DWP research follows the recent publication of the Government’s Health and disability White Paper.

“This proposes to the benefits system changes which will mean that more claimants will be subject to conditionality and sanctions in the future.  

“The Government proposes that the work capability assessment be scrapped. with responsibility for deciding if a disabled claimant has to carry out work-related activity being handed to work coaches who will likely have no healthcare qualifications.

“Further, in his Budget 2023, the Chancellor said that alongside greater support for all UC claimants to gain work “the Government is strengthening the way the sanctions regime is applied … and ensuring that Work Coaches have the tools and training to implement sanctions as effectively as possible, including for failing to take up a job.”

“A real worry is that if work conditionality is at the discretion of work coaches, and disabled claimants agreeing to unreasonable demands due to sanction fears, that serious risk of harm to health and wellbeing could result.

“DR UK wants a system that fully supports all Disabled people to live with independence and dignity, whilst on benefits. Disabled people who can’t work must be given full support.

“Disabled people who want to work should be given the personalised and flexible support they need to enter work, and  those acquiring impairments and health conditions whilst at work, should be supported to retain their jobs.

“We want a benefits system where Disabled people have rights and where we are not subjected to the fear of a sanction leading to accepting unreasonable or harmful work related demands.” 

The DWP research, The Impact of Benefit Sanctions on Employment Outcomes: draft report, is available from

See also our recent related news story Health and Disability White Paper: support not sanctions needed, says DR UK.

Our Benefit Sanctions factsheet is available in our resources section.