In recent years conditionality has become conflated with severe financial penalities (sanctions), and has mutated into an ever more stringent, complex, demanding set of often arbitrary requirements, involving frequent and rigid jobcentre appointments, meeting job application targets, providing evidence of job searches and mandatory participation in workfare schemes. The emphasis of welfare provision has shifted from providing support to people seeking employment to increasing conditionality of conduct, enforcing particular patterns of behaviour and monitoring compliance.Sanctions are “penalties that reduce or terminate welfare benefits in cases where claimants are deemed to be out of compliance with requirements.” They are, in many respects, the neoliberal-paternalist tool of discipline par excellence – the threat that puts a big stick behind coercive welfare programme rules and “incentivises” citizen compliance with a heavily monitoring and supervisory administration. The Conservatives have broadened the scope of behaviours that are subject to sanction. This includes previously protected social groups, such as sick and disabled people and lone parents.
There is plenty of evidence that sanctions don’t help people to find work, and that the punitive application of severe financial penalities is having an extremely detrimental and sometimes catastrophic impact on people’s lives. We can see from a growing body of research how sanctions are not working in the way the government claim they intended.
Sanctions, under which people lose benefit payments for between four weeks and three years for “non-compliance”, have come under fire for being unfair, punitive, failing to increase job prospects, and causing hunger, debt and ill-health among jobseekers. And sometimes, death.
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