Professor Lisa Scullion on how Salford's social policy research is impacting lives across the UK
Research and recommendations provided by Professor of Social Policy, Lisa Scullion into the impact of The Welfare Reform Act 2021 and introduction of Universal Credit on marginalised populations - including military veterans, migrants and disabled people - have informed debate and achieved demonstrable policy and practice influence at national and international level.
Specifically, recommendations directly influenced responses from the UK Government and devolved administrations as well as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to the implementation of social security. This resulted in a reduction in the waiting period for UC first payment, from over six weeks to five weeks, the introduction of a benefit sanctions warning pilot and a £5,000,000 UK Government investment to enhance its Armed Forces Champions network. Salford’s research also informed the development of the UK’s first ever Veterans’ Strategy and Ministry of Defence Holistic Transition Policy.
To mark REF2021 we speak to Lisa on the impact of her research and how it is changing lives for the better across the UK.
Your research focuses on social security reforms and the impact they have on marginalised populations. Why did you feel more research needed to be done in this area?
The Welfare Reform Act 2012 and subsequent introduction of Universal Credit is widely recognised as the most fundamental reform of the social security benefits system since its inception. At full scale, Universal Credit will serve approximately 7,000,000 people in the UK. It is also recognised that the welfare reforms of the last decade have disproportionately impacted on some of the most vulnerable members of society. Given the large number of people it covers, and the complex needs that some of those accessing the system may have, it is vital to ensure that we evidence the experiences of these reforms through in-depth research.
What were the main changes that took place as a result of your research, and who were the main beneficiaries?
At Salford, we have had an instrumental role in two significant projects that have directly impacted on social security policy and practice. The first is a project called Welfare Conditionality: Sanctions, Support and Behaviour Change. This was an innovative five-year study that explored people’s experiences of navigating the welfare system over time. It was the largest ever project of its kind, with over a thousand in-depth interviews carried out with people from a range of backgrounds.
Overall, the project generated 331 engagement activities, 166 publications, and 94 influences on policy and practice, including influencing changes to the use of benefits sanction, and changes to the implementation of Universal Credit. Within that project, I had a specific focus on the experiences on vulnerable and marginalised groups within this system.
This focus on ensuring the system responded to those with more complex needs led me to develop the second project, called Sanctions, Support and Service Leavers, which focuses specifically on the experiences of military veterans within the benefits system, and represents the first ever UK research to focus on this issue. Again, the research tracked people’s experiences over time, highlighting some of the challenges that people faced when accessing the benefits system as part of their transition from military to civilian life. The research has been used to support a range of policy and practice changes.
How does it feel to have your research making a real-life impact in the community and, in terms of next steps, do you think there is more that needs to be done on this matter?
I am incredibly proud of the work that we have been leading at Salford and our influence and impact in relation to both social security policy and practice, along with the support provided to military veterans. However, the impact would not be possible without the relationships we have established with the Department for Work and Pensions, the Ministry of Defence and other key stakeholders. Engaging positively with those who are responsible for developing policy and changing practice is absolutely vital for researchers.
Our research focusing on veterans and the benefits system continues, as does our engagement with policy and practice stakeholders. In many ways the findings we presented represented a starting point not an end point, and we want to understand the impact of the changes that have been made. But there is also a bigger piece of work we need to do around how people experience interacting with the benefits system to ensure that they are appropriately supported. I have advocated that the benefits system should be using trauma informed approaches, and this is something that we are now exploring with key stakeholders.
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