Researchers conducting a tracking study measuring the impact of welfare reform have published their findings in a year 1 report.

The study, which is tracking the ongoing impact of welfare reform over a 3 year period from 2013 to 2016, is being carried out by the Research Institute at Edinburgh Napier University and the University of Stirling, on behalf of the Scottish Government. Findings will assist Scottish Government decision-making over devolved policy areas.

The Work Capability Assessment has again raised questions as the authors point to the rate of successful appeals against fitness for work rulings and the high risk of false-positives when assessing fitness to work, particularly for those with fluctuating or ‘invisible’ conditions. Participants in the research said that they found the transition from Incapacity Benefit to Employment Support Allowance stressful, particularly when they challenged decisions and were subjected to long delays.

The researchers found that stronger conditionality is unlikely to help people into work and instead suggest interventions that address the barriers people face, such as education, skills, employability services and access to childcare. The study found that lone parents and those with a health condition or disability faced considerable barriers to finding and staying in work, while participants in the Work Programme did not find it particularly helpful, although some reported that the intensive, personalised and targeted assistance from third sector organisations they received was more useful in helping them to secure employment.

Research participants reported feeling stigmatised by the way in which messages around welfare reform have been communicated, claiming that the rhetoric the Government has used to justify the changes has created a negative view of benefit recipients, while the media’s portrayal has contributed to stereotypes that leave people feeling diminished.

The report identifies a number of policy implications, including the need to address affordable childcare and to ensure that support services that mitigate against  the impact of welfare reform are consistent across local authority areas.

The next stage of the study will cover the following topics:

  • The ongoing impact of welfare reforms (and associated uncertainty) that have already affected participants, and whether participants have been
    affected by any changes to the welfare system that have occurred, or started to affect them, since the previous sweep;
  • Any changes in household composition or tenure;
  • Any changes in the employment status of the participant or other household members, and changes to the sources or amount of household income;
    The physical and mental/emotional wellbeing of the participant and other household members, and whether this is different to the previous sweep;
  • A detailed module on social networks and sources of support, and the impact of having (or not having) this support on mediating the impact of
    welfare reform

Impact of Welfare Reform in Scotland Tracking Study: year 1 report