The Impacts of Benefit Sanctions: A Scoping Review of the Quantitative Research Evidence

Serena Pattaro, Nick Bailey, Evan Williams, Marcia Gibson, Valerie Wells, Mark Tranmer, Chris Dibben

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In recent decades, the use of conditionality backed by benefit sanctions for those claiming unemployment and related benefits has become widespread in the social security systems of high-income countries. Critics argue that sanctions may be ineffective in bringing people back to employment or indeed harmful in a range of ways. Existing reviews largely assess the labour market impacts of sanctions but our understanding of the wider impacts is more limited. We report results from a scoping review of the international quantitative research evidence on both labour market and wider impacts of benefit sanctions. Following systematic search and screening, we extract data for 94 studies reporting on 253 outcome measures. We provide a narrative summary, paying attention to the ability of the studies to support causal inference. Despite variation in the evidence base and study designs, we found that labour market studies, covering two thirds of our sample, consistently reported positive impacts for employment but negative impacts for job quality and stability in the longer term, along with increased transitions to non-employment or economic inactivity. Although largely relying on non-experimental designs, wider-outcome studies reported significant associations with increased material hardship and health problems. There was also some evidence that sanctions were associated with increased child maltreatment and poorer child well-being. Lastly, the review highlights the generally poor quality of the evidence base in this area, with few studies employing research methods designed to identify the causal impact of sanctions, especially in relation to wider impacts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)611-653
JournalJournal of Social Policy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 14 Feb 2022


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