Welfare reform in Scotland: Research, policy and the third sector


This Policy Scotland seminar and discussion focused on the ways that academics and partners can make an impact on the developing social security agenda in Scotland and how new research collaborations can be usefully developed to improve the evidence base for the social security system.

The day opened with a presentation from Julie Guy from the Scottish Government, who shared the work of the Scottish Government and users of social security to develop the Social Security Charter and its implications for practice and evaluation.

Three University of Glasgow academics then shared their research and its implications for Scottish policy.

Nick Watson shared the results of a project that investigated the impact of welfare reform on the lives of disabled people, with a particular focus on respondent’s history in receiving social security and their experience in the assessment process. The in-depth interviews with 50 respondents showed that even for those who were successful moving onto PIP, the process was dehumanising, damaging to wellbeing, and financially burdensome.

Sharon Wright shared the Scottish results of the five-year ESRC project Welfare Conditionality: Sanctions, Support and Behaviour Change, which investigated the ethics and efficacy of welfare conditionality across a range of domains. That research found welfare conditionality increased poverty and destitution, was ineffective at moving people into work, and was associated with declining mental and physical health.

Her presentation highlighted that although Scotland is reforming devolved benefits, much of the working age benefits (including Universal Credit) are still subject to the requirements of the reserved benefits. Therefore, Scottish policymakers should consider new practice agreements when working between devolved and reserved benefits and that Scotland should consider trialling new ways to provide adequate income and reduce poverty without behavioural conditionality.

Finally, Nick Bailey shared a broader view of the changing contexts in the labour market, housing and urbanisation that impact poverty and subsequently those who are eligible for welfare benefits. These changes include an increase in labour market polarisation and the rise in in-work poverty, the increase in the percentage of poor families who are in the more unstable private rental sector, and the suburbanisation and new locations for disadvantage; all of which require more research and evidence to investigate the impact of welfare reform in these new contexts.

The final part of the seminar focused on a roundtable and panel discussion with four panellists:

  • Carole Edwards from the Scottish Government, who spoke on her research with social security experience panels
  • Neil Cowan from The Poverty Alliance
  • Jen Gracie from CPAG Scotland
  • Bill Scott from Inclusion Scotland

The panellists spoke briefly on their own research and/or advocacy projects, and the way they have engaged policymakers and those in the civil service to work for policy change.

In conversation with the attendees, they also shared their successes and challenges of using and co-producing research evidence with those in the University and explored how collaborations between the government, third sector and academia can be developed.

The seminar took place on 28 May 2019 at the University of Glasgow