Skip header navigation

Stirling researchers in five year welfare study

Back to news

The University of Stirling is taking part in a five-year, £2.5 million study into the welfare system.

Researchers will look into the conditions attached to some benefits and services and see whether they are successful in changing the behaviour of claimants.

The study is being funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and will bring together researchers from Stirling, the University of Salford, the University of Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam University and Heriot-Watt University.               

Interviews and focus groups will be held with policymakers, managers and frontline staff who deliver welfare initiatives, as well as benefit claimants. 

Dr Sharon Wright, from School of Applied Social Science at the University of Stirling, said:  “The study will explore whether the ties linked to certain benefits work and whether they are ethical. 

“These types of conditions have increased over the past two decades in a bid to encourage positive behaviour by people on welfare. We’ll be looking at how successful these conditions have been and whether there are lessons we can learn to improve the welfare system. 

“We’ll also consider the impact of changes on different groups, such as migrants, lone parents, disabled people, homeless people and those in insecure housing.”

The study comes at a crucial time, as the UK faces a major revamp of its existing welfare benefits system. Controversial changes being introduced by the UK Government have divided politicians, with some people saying they are “draconian and regressive” and others saying they are “long overdue”. 

Researchers hope the five-year study will influence future welfare policy and practice. The project will also establish eight PhD studentships - to help contribute towards the next generation of social researchers.

Professor Peter Dwyer of the University of Salford’s School of Nursing, Social Work and Midwifery is leading the new study.

He said: “The use of conditional welfare arrangements that combine elements of sanction and support has become an established part of welfare policy within and beyond the UK.

“Together, we will be exploring the extent to which conditionality may be justifiable and, importantly, its effectiveness in instigating behaviour change. The support of the ESRC is gratefully acknowledged.”



  • The study will be informed by a range of methods including: comprehensive review of relevant academic literature, statistical data sources and policy documents, an international expert seminar series and consultation workshops with welfare service users and practitioners. New empirical qualitative data will be generated in with the following three sets of respondents:
  1. 40 semi structured interviews with ‘elite’ policy makers and actors.
  2. 24 focus groups (each with 6-10 respondents) with frontline welfare practitioners who implement policy.
  3. 1200 repeat qualitative longitudinal interviews with a diverse sample of 400 welfare service users who are subject to welfare conditionality i.e. each person will be interviewed three times.
  • Fieldwork will be undertaken in a variety of locations in England and Scotland.
  • The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's total budget for 2012/13 is £205 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes.

You may also be interested in