Last week, the first event of the research project ‘Welfare Conditionality: Sanctions, Support and Behaviour Change’ took place at the University of York. This five year (2013-2018) programme aims to create an international and interdisciplinary focal point for social science research on welfare conditionality, that is, the linking welfare benefits and services to ‘responsible’ behaviour.
The project brings together teams of researchers working in six English and Scottish Universities and has two core aims:
1. Effectiveness: to develop an empirically and theoretically informed understanding of the role of welfare conditionality in promoting and sustaining behaviour change among a diversity of welfare recipients over time;
2. Ethicality: to consider the particular circumstances in which the use of conditionality may, or may not, be ethically justified.
The expert panel, organised around the theme of ‘Conceptualising and Justifying Conditionality?’ and chaired by Alan Deacon (Emeritus Professor of Social Policy at the University of Leeds) – aimed to bring together a range of international experts with differing perspectives on the justification of welfare conditionality. The day began with an introduction to the project from Professor Peter Dwyer (University of York) and Dr Beth Watts, who outlined the team’s progress to date, focusing on conceptualisations of conditionality and related key concepts and normative perspectives.
The panel included Professor Lawrence Mead (New York University), whose presentation – ‘Welfare Conditionality: Reasons and Conditions’ – reflected on welfare reform and the linking of welfare to work requirements in the US. Dr Chris Grover from the University of Lancaster then discussed welfare conditionality from a political economy perspective. Professor Sigrid Betzelt, from the Berlin School of Economics and Law shared findings from a cross-national study of activation policies in European countries, focusing on the question of whether such policies enhance of diminish the autonomy of citizens. Professor Hartley Dean (London School of Economics) was the final contributor and spoke on the theme ‘Ethics and Social Welfare: Human interdependency and unconditional rights’. The speaker’s presentations can be accessed here.
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 Funded under the Economic and Social Research Council’s Centres and Large Grants Scheme.
 University of Glasgow, Heriot-Watt University, University of Salford, Sheffield Hallam University, The University of Sheffield, University of York.