Basic Income and Welfare


A recent Guardian piece by Declan Gaffney asserts that a Universal Basic Income could not replace the UK’s social security (or welfare) system. The piece can be read here:

A basic income that replaced the UK’s social security system would need to be so generous that it would disincentivise the jobless from looking for work. Hence a punitive social security system that relies on sanctions is necessary because otherwise the jobless will not look for work. In short, such a Basic Income would make life too comfortable for the lazy and workshy.

Well perhaps this is true. given Declan’s assumption of a universal and unconditional basic income intended to replace the social security system. Such a basic income would need to be very generous and might well have the effect that Declan fears. A valid  inference of Declan’s fine piece is that Basic Income is a nice idea but infeasible; so let’s keep means tested and contingent benefits. and rely on Universal Credit to provide the right balance between carrot and stick.

Should the idea of Basic Income be abandoned?

Given Declan’s point, that UBI could not, or should not, replace the social security system, is Basic Income simply a nice but impracticable idea?

I agree that it would be too expensive for basic income to replace all social security, at least in the UK’s circumstances. UK housing costs, for example, are far too high and would need to fall massively before a Basic Income could be anywhere near sufficient to cover housing costs. Until such time as the high cost of housing in the UK  is addressed, a system of means tested benefits for housing costs will be needed.

Similarly, the social security system also provides contingent benefits, that is benefits which compensate for disability, unemployment, old age, and child rearing. It would not make sense for a uniform basic income to be set at a level  which covers contingent costs  of minorities – it would be far too expensive. In any case, the National Insurance Fund insures against some of these contingencies via contributions.

So Declan says (and others say) that the current social security system accommodates the variegated needs of the population and that a basic income is unnecessary and inadequate. However, I do not believe Declan’s argument is dispositive.  A modest basic income scheme, that is, one which does not seek to replace all social security benefits, is a practical  and worthwhile option.

Proposal for a modest basic income

A hat tip to Mike Gist (@mgist) who suggested that I calculate the net tax liability at different income levels before and after introduction of a basic income. I have done this analysis for the tax year 2015/2016, assuming an annual personal allowance of £10,600, which, to help fund the scheme, would be scrapped. So post tax income after implementation of basic income and after scrappage of the personal allowance is being compared with post tax income before scrappage of personal allowance. Tax credits have been excluded from the analysis.

The analysis shows that no one, whatever their income level would be left worse off if annual basic income were to be set at £4,240. Below is a graph of the results.

  1. The graph shows that for market incomes of below £45k (approx) tax payers would be better off post tax after abolition of annual personal allowance under basic income of £4,240 p.a.
  2. For incomes between £45k approx and £100k, there is no gain or loss. For incomes over £100k there is a gain which stabilises at £4,240 when income reaches £120k approx.
  3. The gain for incomes over £100k arises because personal allowances are currently restricted or non-existent at this level. Scrapping the annual personal allowance as per the scheme thus causes all income levels to be treated equally with respect to personal allowances.

Basic income simulation

Other points

  1. The analysis shows that the cost of even this modest scheme will exceed the current (pre-scheme) income tax take. To establish the cost of the scheme it is necessary to know how many people will gain how much for all income groups.
  2. A basic income set at £4,240 is sufficient to replace Job Seekers’ Allowance for the unemployed, and Working Tax Credits for those in work. Hence the aggregate spend on JSA and WTC can be deducted from the additional cost calculated in point 1.
  3. The basic income would replace working tax credits without the cliff edges and complexity that the existing system contains.
  4. The graph’s U shape is caused by the kinks in the current income tax schedule, and not by the properties of the basic income scheme itself. The withdrawal rate is a constant 20%. There is thus a strong incentive for workers at lower pay rates to increase their market earnings.
  5. The scheme has been formulated with the same parameters as are used in the existing income tax regime. That is the bands and rates (20%, 40%, and 45%) on which income tax is charged are identical as those which are in current use.
  6. Some of the annual gains of £4,240 accruing to 45% tax payers (those earning more than £150k p.a.), could, if a government had a mind to, be taxed away by raising the rate to 50%.
  7. The scheme should be acceptable to the electorate since there are no losers.

Summary and conclusions

An ambitious basic income scheme, that is, one that seeks to replace all social security benefits, is probably incontrovertibly infeasible.

However, because an ambitious scheme may be infeasible this is not necessarily a good ground for rejecting the concept of Basic Income completely. A modest scheme may be both feasible and worthwhile.

A modest scheme, as outlined above, could replace Job Seekers’ Allowance and Working Tax Credits. Withdrawal rates would be at the basic rate of income tax of 20%.

A need for other social security benefits would continue. Incentives to work could be improved by addressing housing costs which are currently so high that without Housing Benefit support it does not pay people to work.

Replacing Job Seekers’ Allowance and Working Tax Credits with an unconditional basic income removes the threat of starvation (which JSA sanctions represent) as an instrument of government policy.  Starving people is wrong and most people would agree that starvation should not be used by governments as a weapon against civilian populations.


@mgist for his suggestion that inspired the analysis

@cjfdillow for his comprehensive descriptions of how basic income works.

All errors are mine.


Calculation of post-tax income 

Appendix Basic Income calculations.png





Using the tax system to deliver a living wage

In a previous post, I proposed a formula for calculating income tax that would provide for a  negative income tax. I did so because I believe a negative income tax system would be simpler, fairer, more humane, technically more feasible , and cheaper to develop than the current Universal Credit project being rolled out by Her Majesty’s government. A negative income tax would be administered by HMRC and have at its core the following formula for calculating income tax:

T(n) = m∑Y(n) – c∑H(n) – ∑T(n-1)


m is the single marginal tax rate;

c is the hourly value of the tax shield

∑Y(n) is the cumulative market income received by the end of period n

∑H(n) is the cumulative hours worked by the end of period n

∑T(n-1) is the cumulative income tax paid by the start of period n.


The proposed tax system has a single marginal tax rate. The choice of this rate is a political as well as a technical decision (i.e., achieving the desired behavioural effects) An individual’s hourly tax-free pay is given by the grossed-up tax shield (c / m).

In this post, I want to show how a negative income tax system can deliver what many describe as a “living wage”. The figure of £10 / hour has been mooted as a living wage. I shall hence assume this figure for the living wage  in my illustration.


In this post, I will incorporate the UK’s national minimum wage (NMW), currently £6.50 per hour, into the model.

I will also use a marginal tax rate of 40%, a tax rate which is both comparable to and competitive with existing UK income tax rates (20%, 40%, and 45%). Hence m has been set to 40% or 0.4 in my illustrations.

I will assume a working week of 35 hours and an individual’s weekly hours will be capped at this level.

I will also show how the model can be used to generate a basic income. I will briefly set out my views on whether a basic income should be conditional or unconditional.

Calculating the tax shield

In this section, I will show how negative income tax can transform the minimum wage of £6.50 / hour into a living wage of £10.00 / hour.  To achieve this, the value of the tax shield (c) must be calculated with reference to the minimum wage and to the living wage of £10.00. The value of the tax shield (c) must be set so that the hourly negative tax payment makes up the difference of £3.50 

Ignoring the summations in the above f ormula (they are not necessary here), we have

T = m x (£6.50) – c = – £3.50

T= 0.4 x £6.50 – c = – £3.50

c = £6.10

The tax formula that transforms the hourly national minimum wage of £6.50 to an hourly living wage of £10 will thus be

T(n) = 0.4 x ∑Y(n) – £6.10 x ∑H(n) – ∑T(n-1)

or on a week 1 basis, the hourly tax charge will be:

T = 0.4 x £6.50 – £6.10

= – £3.50 (negative,  as required)


Lenny earns the adult minimum wage. He works 35 hours per week. His pay slip will show:

Market income (35 hours x £6.50/hour)                                       £227.50

Negative income tax  (35 hours x £3.50)                                     £122.50

Take home pay (35 hours x £10 hour)                                         £350.00


Lenny now receives £10 per hour.


The hourly post-tax income of someone whose market income is £10 would be transformed to £12.10.

T= 0.4 x (£10.00) – £6.10 = – £2.10 (negative)

Hence that individual would take home £10 – (- £2.10) = £12.10 for every hour worked at or below the 35 hour weekly cap on hours. So although the “differentials” between market incomes have narrowed the higher paid worker still receives more per hour than the minimum wage worker.

Tax free allowance

The break-even hourly income with an hourly tax shield of £6.10 and a marginal tax rate of 40% is £15.25. This means a worker with an hourly income of £15.25 will neither pay income tax nor receive a tax payment. This is equivalent to an annual tax free allowance of £27,755 (compared to the current allowance of £10,000 p.a.). Individuals with a a market income of above £15.25 per hour or £27,755 per annum would pay income tax of 40% on the excess.

Basic income

The parameters used in the formula produce an amount 0f £6.10 per hour for those who have no market income. This could be taken to be a basic income payable to anyone whose market income is zero.

T = 0.4 x £0.00 / hour – £6.10 / hour

= – £6.10 per hour (negative)

The issue is whether this fortunate by-product of negative income tax should be conditional or unconditional.

Unconditional basic income

An unconditional basic income would credit every citizen with 35 hours. The basic income would thus be received by every citizen of working age.  The basic income would amount to £213.50 (35 hours x £6.10 per hour).

Hourly income with unconditional basic income and living wage of £10/hour

Hourly income with unconditional basic income and living wage of £10/hour

Conditional basic income

A conditional basic income would credit some groups with 35 hours a week but not others. For example, the disabled, the infirm, and those with caring responsibilities could be credited.  This would automatically trigger a payment at HMRC of £213.50 to individuals falling in these groups. The unemployed would be credited with hours only to the extent of their hourly contributions to society via voluntary work and / or participation in counter hysteresis activities (such as internships, work placements, or work programmes).

Hourly income with a conditional basic income and a living wage of £10/hour

Hourly income with a conditional basic income and a living wage of £10/hour

Conditional or unconditional basic income?

My main concern is that every UK citizen should have access to honest and adequate income. For disadvantaged groups, income accessability, particularly with increased benefit conditionality, can often be an issue.

Provided plentiful opportunities for voluntary work and / or opportunities to engage in counter hysteresis activities are made available to physically and mentally capable individuals without a market income then basic income should be conditional along the lines described above. A reasonably generous income of £213.50 per week would accrue to such individuals if their engagement in these activities was for 35 hours a week. Lesser contributions would be rewarded proportionately.

Summary of the model

Basic income = £6.10 /hour. May be conditional or unconditional. Could replace unemployment benefit.

Minimum wage (statutory)  = £6.50 / hour.

Living wage (assumed) = £10.00 /hour.

Break-even wage = £15.25 /hour.

Marginal tax rate = 40%

Maximum hours of credit = 35

Some final points

The withdrawal rate for someone transiting from unemployment to minimum wage work is about 43% (0.4 x £6.50 / £6.10). This is substantially better than the proposed withdrawal rate of 65% planned for Universal Credit.

However, the withdrawal rate rises as the starting hourly wage rate rises. At a starting rate of £15.25 per hour the withdrawal rate is 100%. It is unlikely that such a high withdrawal rate would be a disincentive to accept work at this wage rate.

It seems likely that a negative income tax designed with the parameters outlined in this post would lead to a lower overall income tax take for the government. Some of this might  be due to a lower marginal tax rate of 40% for top earners compared to their current 45% and because the tax free allowance is more generous than the current £10,000 annual allowance. For this reason, it may be better to use income tax as a means of correcting the inequalities that arise from distortions in the labour market (eg directors effectively setting their own pay) rather than as a means of raising revenue.

Capping the corporation tax deductibility of market incomes to £27,779 per employee (the annual tax free allowance) may also help to mitigate reductions in the income tax take.

The redistribution of income arising from this variant of a negative income tax system is likely to have a stimulative effect on the economy. Poorer workers with a high propensity to consume relative to richer workers should increase demand and hence economic activity.

Self-employment and negative income tax


Previously, in “Is Universal Credit the wrong approach?”, I proposed that a thoughtfully designed negative income tax system would be more effective in delivering UC’s stated aims. I believe UC is fundamentally flawed, primarily because it does not address the UK’s low and falling wages. The feasibility of designing incentives to make work pay into UC, in an environment with low and falling wages, may be logically flawed. This doubt exists in addition to the current uncertainty about UC’s technical feasibility. In this post, I set out how negative income tax (NIT), the proposed alternative to UC, would apply to the self-employed.

Recap of the negative income tax proposal

1. Income tax would be assessed on Comprehensive Realised Income (CRI).

2. An individual’s tax-free allowance would be calculated according to the number of hours worked. The value of each hour worked would be £20 and be capped at 40 hours per week (2,080 per year).

3. A single rate of tax would be applied to comprehensive realised income, By way of example, and for philosophical reasons, the single tax rate has been set at 50%,

4. Carers, the disabled, and the infirm would be credited with 40 hours per week by HMRC. This would release  a payment of £800 per week (40 hours x £20/hour) to individuals falling in these categories. Any earnings would not disqualify recipients from this minimum income guarantee. However, earnings would be taxed at the marginal rate of 50%.

5.  Job seekers would be paid according to the hours they work part-time, voluntarily in the charitable sector, and in work placements. These hours would be notified to HMRC by the placement providers using HMRC’s Real Time Information reporting system. Payments would be accordingly triggered at HMRC. The placements would not be compulsory – job seekers would have choice as to the  number of hours and type of work they took on. The role of the DWP would be to find and arrange work placements in cases where the job seeker has been unable to do it for themselves.

6. The self-employed (sole-traders and partners), would be allowed a tax-free allowance equivalent to deemed hours of work. The imputed hours would be capped at 40 hours per week (or 2,080 per year), as for all other cases. The hours worked would be imputed by dividing the tax-adjusted earned profits by the standard value of an hour (£20) and multiplying the result by the marginal tax rate. This arrangement would be necessary since no third party could attest to the number of hours worked.

H(n) = m x Y(n)  ⁄ c


H(n) are the imputed hours for the period (capped at 52 x 40 = 2,080)

Y(n)  is the tax adjusted profit in period n

m is the marginal tax rate (set to 50% in the examples)

c is the standard value of an hour worked (set to £20 in the examples)

Example 1

Stephen enters self-employment at the start of the tax year. His (tax-adjusted) profits for the year come to £10,000. He has no other sources of income.

His imputed hours for the year would be

H(n) = £10,000 x 50% / £20 = 250

Hence Stephen’s tax charge for the year would be 

T(n) = 0.5 x £10,000 – 250 x £20 = £0

Stephen’s disposable income is hence £10,000 because his tax charge is zero. He has used up 250 hours of his annual allowance of 2,080 hours. He could have used the unused allowance to do part-time work and/or voluntary work. His income would have been supplemented had he done this.

Had Stephen also sold his house at a capital gain of £40,000, his income tax computation would be:

 T(n) = 0.5 x £50,000 – 250 x £20 = £20,000

Hence his post-tax comprehensive realised income would be £30,000. He is charged no tax on earned income but is charged 50% on his capital gain (an unearned component of comprehensive realised income)


Example 2

Anita enters self-employment at the start of the tax year. Her (tax-adjusted) profit for the year comes to £100,000. She has no other sources of income. Her imputed hours of work in year n are calculated as thus.

 H(n) = £100,000 x 50% / £20 = 2,500

The hours must be capped to 52 weeks x 40 hours per week = 2,080.

Her tax for year n would be:

T(n) = 0.5 x £100,000 – 2,080 x £20 = £8,400

Anita’s disposable income (take home pay) is hence £91,600. Her tax rate is 8.4% on her earned income. 

Had Anita also received rental income (i.e., unearned income) of £10,000 in the same year then her income tax computation would be:

T(n) = 0.5 x £110,000 – 2,080 x £20 = £13,400

Note that the unearned components of comprehensive realised income have again been taxed at a straight 50%. This feature, whereby an individual’s tax-free allowance is calculated on hours worked, assists in aligning the tax system with the “making work pay” agenda that underpins the government’s welfare reforms and UC.

NB. The parameters used in these examples, i.e., a working week capped at 40 hours, a marginal tax rate of 50%. and a standard hour set to £20, produces a tax-free allowance of £83,600 on earned income. This produces low average tax rates on middle earnings and is very generous by current standards. It is intended to incentivise. Of course, the average rate will approach the marginal rate of 50% as incomes rise.

Is Universal Credit the wrong approach?

“Work doesn’t pay” is the oft cited justification for Universal Credit (UC). It’s not clear that rolling up six separate benefits into one single payment will address this  problem, aka the unemployment trap. Wages in the UK are at best static and may have been falling in real terms over the last decade. Coupled with declining real wages has been the almost complete elimination of affordable council housing. Wages nowadays are insufficient to meet private housing rental costs which have soared due to shortages. So yes, it may pay claimants to remain on benefits, particularly Housing Benefit.

An alternative to UC is to integrate the tax system with benefits. Low earners, instead of paying income tax, would instead receive a generous negative tax payment. The incomes of low earners would be enhanced to the extent that they would no longer need benefits just to survive; in short, integrating tax and benefits could give low earners independence. But how can this be achieved? One framework to achieve this is a system of cumulative hourly averaging combined with comprehensive realised income (CRI) subject to a single rate of tax

Cumulative Hourly Averaging – the advantages

  • It rewards work – those who work will pay less tax on their comprehensive realised incomes

  • It can integrate benefits with tax – a generous negative income tax is facilitated

  • It supports flexible labour markets – the incomes of zero hours contract workers will be enhanced and less variable. There should be no need of a minimum wage.

  • It restores or strengthens the contributory principle.

Comprehensive Realised Income – the advantages

  • It addresses inequalities in wealth distribution – wealth transfers and other windfall gains are taxed at the same rate as earned income

  • It overcomes equitable objections to Inheritance Tax – legacies would be taxed according to the recipient’s circumstances and at the same rate as earned income

  • It reduces incentives to avoid tax – a single rate of tax can be applied to all sources of income

Cumulative Hourly Averaging – the Generalised Model

 The tax charge in period n would be calculated with the following formula:

T(n) = m∑Y(n) – c∑H(n) – ∑T(n-1)


T(n) = tax charge in period n

∑Y(n) = Cumulative comprehensive realised income received by the end of period n

∑H(n) =Cumulative hours worked by the end of period n

∑T(n-1) = Cumulative tax paid at the start of period n, and so ∑T(n) = T(n) + ∑T(n-1)

m = the marginal tax rate. I have used a single marginal rate of 50% applied to all components of CRI  without preference

c = the value of an hour of work. I have set this to £20 so as to produce a generous negative tax component which encourages work

 The Mechanics

Before illustrating how the tax calculation works, I have set out some parameters which I have used in the examples below. These are:

  • The standard working week has been set to 40 hours per week

  • The standard wage rate (or the value of an hour of work) is £20. Note this is an administrative value and has nothing to do with a minimum wage.

  • There is no minimum wage

  • A flat rate income tax of 50% applies to all components of comprehensive realised income without preferment. This is a limiting rate, meaning no one in work will pay tax at this rate however high their income.

  • Tax free personal allowances depend on cumulative hours worked and are valued at £20 per hour worked.

  • Tax free personal allowances are carried over to succeeding years, unlike the current “use or lose” system

  • No individual’s personal allowance can exceed 48 hours in a week

  • HMRC operates RTI (Real Time Information) so that incomes and changes in circumstances are reported as and when they occur.


Example 1

Freda starts work for 30 hours per week at £7 per hour (£210 per week). She has no other sources of income.

T(1) = = 0.5 x £210 – £20 x 30 = – £495

Freda will pay no income tax and instead will receive £495 under the negative tax mechanism. Her disposable income will thus be £210 + £495 = £705.  Not bad for a week’s work !

In the second week, Freda’s tax calculation is as follows:

T(2) = 0.5 x £420 – £20 x 60 – (-£495) = -£495

So again, Freda’s disposable income (take home pay) will be £210 +£495 = £705. Enjoy yourself, Freda. you deserve it! And so it will continue until Freda’s circumstances change.

Example 2

George starts work as a director of a large company. His monthly remuneration package comes to £60,000. His monthly hours of work are restricted to 208. He has no other sources of income

T(1) = 0.5 x £60,000 – £20 x 208 = £25,840

So George’s disposable income will be £60,000 – £25,840 = £34,160.

T(2) = 0.5 x £120,000 – £20 x 416 – £25,840 = £25,840

So long as George’s circumstances don’t change his monthly disposable income will remain at £34,160.


Example 3

Mark Anthony is a notorious playboy who has never done a day’s work in his life. His very rich father bequeaths Mark Anthony £500,000 in his  will. Mark’s tax liability will be:

T(1) = 0.5 x £500,000 – £20 x 0 = £250,000

In the second  period, Mark Anthony decides to do some voluntary work. He registers 30 hours with HMRC.

T(2) = 0.5 x £500,000 – £20 x 30 – £250,000 = – £600

Mark Anthony is rewarded for his voluntary work to the tune of £600 via the negative income tax mechanism. Work pays! Even unpaid work.


Example 4

Lois has a severe disability that limits the amount of work she can do in a week to 10 hours. She is paid £3 per hour (there is no minimum wage). HMRC credits Lois with 30 additional hours per week to compensate her for the hours she is unable to work through no fault of her own. She has no other sources of income. In week 1 her tax will be calculated thus:

T(1) = 0.5 x £30 – £20 x 40 = – 785

So Lois’s disposable income in week 1 will be £30 + £785 = £815. This is an example of how institutions can be used to compensate disadvantage.

In week 2, Lois receives a pay rise of £2 per hour to £5 per hour. Her tax calculation in week 2 will be

T(2) = 0.5 x £80 – £20 x 80 – (-785) = -£775

Lois’s disposable income in week 2 has risen to £50 + £775 = £825.  A pay rise of £20 per week has resulted in Lois’s disposable income increasing by £10 and the state subsidy falling by an equivalent amount.

Example 5

Tony is a homeless alcoholic, without work or income. He is offered 40 hourly work credits per week which will trigger weekly payments of £800 via the negative income tax mechanism provided he undergoes treatment for his alcoholism at a residential clinic. In Tony’s case, the  weekly payments are paid directly to the clinic instead of to Tony, Tony will need to price himself into employment when his treatment is completed, a task made easier absent a minimum wage.

Information requirements

HMRC will need to keep an up-to-date record of every taxpayer/claimant and changes in their circumstances. This is not as onerous or as intrusive as might at first appear; RTI, which requires employers to submit details of employee  hours and pay in “real time”,  has already been introduced. The road has already been dug.

 Here is a logical record of the information and processing that HMRC would need to collect and process for an employee. The particular employee shown in the record has had a particularly turbulent time, starting as a highly paid director, becoming unemployed, suffering disability, inheriting a sizeable estate, etc, all in six weeks!. The record is not intended to be of a typical employee but is illustrative of how income tax would work under cumulative hourly averaging with CRI .

Table of events


One thing writing this post has taught me is how difficult it is to design a safety net which both protects and incentivises.  A safety net  which is too generous removes incentives to return to, or to get into, work. A safety net built around stick and no carrot is cruel and damaging to individuals. I fear that Universal Credit, with its vicious sanctions regime and its heartless treatment of the sick and disabled, falls into this latter category. I venture to suggest that the negative income system outlined above, albeit with its fault lines, would be more effective than the proposed UC project should the latter ever go live. The system outlined above is certainly kinder than UC. Having said this, it may be that the proponents of Unconditional Basic Income win the day – UBI sidesteps the tension between incentive and protection. Perhaps this is the way to go.


It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the brilliant work of Douglas Bamford in the field of taxation and philosophy. Douglas very kindly gave me sight of his then forthcoming book in advance of its publication. His ideas on cumulative hourly averaging have very obviously informed this piece, as has his idea of using comprehensive income as a tax base. His book is entitled Rethinking Taxation – An Introduction to Hourly Averaging. ISBN 9781907720918.

Any errors or sub-standard work contained in this piece are mine, and mine alone.

Addendum 2 September 2014

1. Quite rightly, it has been pointed out to me that the negative tax proposal outlined above does not say much about unemployment support. To answer this, I suggest work placements should be available for all jobless people, which they can choose to take up. There should be no compulsion as to participation or as to the type of placement. If a jobless person can arrange a placement of their choice, say in a museum, then so be it. The only requirement would be the readiness and agreement  for the placement provider to submit the hours worked to the HMRC as registered hours. The registration of hours worked each week under RTI reporting would then trigger a payment via the negative income tax mechanism to the worker in the same way as for other employees.

2. People who have caring responsibilities, either for children or for aged parents, should receive hourly credits equal to the standard working week  (40 hours according to the parameters used in my examples).

3. Profits on the sale of houses, even if a house in question is a Principal Private Residence (PPR), should be brought into the Taxable Comprehensive Realised Income calculation. Currently, the gain on sale of a PPR is exempt from taxation.

Analysis of JSA sanctions in Birmingham and Solihull

Are sanctions being applied consistently?

On 6 November 2013, DWP published sanctions counts by job centre. As far as I aware, this is a new data series – prior to this sanctions counts were not published, still less at the atomic level of individual job centres. Moreover, the published sanction counts are in time series for each job centre, and this too is helpful in building a picture.

At about the same time, perhaps coincidentally, Roger Godsiff, MP for Birmingham Hall Green, sponsored a parliamentary Early Day Motion to reflect his concern that sanctions are being over-used by the Sparkhill job centre, one of two job centres situated in his constituency. It may be relevant that the other Hall Green job centre, Kings Heath, is the origin of the Caitt Reilly case, where the courts found that insufficient decision-relevant information had been provided to her and other claimants.

Given this, it seemed worthwhile to conduct a comparative numeric analysis of the newly published data for each of the relevant parliamentary constituencies comprising Birmingham & Solihull.  Eleven of these constituencies have job centres and hence are relevant to the study.

By matching the JSA sanction counts published by DWP with the JSA claimant counts published by ONS, the sanction rates for the eleven parliamentary constituencies were computed for the months Nov 2012 to June 2013. This is as much as the new DWP data series permits at the current time. October 2012 was excluded because it is an incomplete month.

A national sanction rate for the country as a whole was also computed, so that sanction rates for each of the constituencies forming the study could be compared, the national sanction rate being the comparator. The ONS claimant count imposed a limitation in achieving this purpose because, prior to February, a claimant count for Great Britain, as distinct from the United Kingdom, is not provided. The Great Britain claimant count is needed because the DWP sanction count is only given for Great Britain. Thus matching the national sanctions count to the national claimant count is only possible for the months Feb 2013 to June 2013 where both series are provided in aggregate for Great Britain.

The graphs below show the results of this study.

Sanctions rates for Birmingham and Solihull parliamentary constituencies having job centres

Sanctions rate data 1

Sanctions rate data 2

Sanctions rate data 3

What do the graphs show?

With the exception of Selly Oak, the local sanction rates depart significantly from the national sanctions rate.

The local sanctions rate of Birmingham Hall Green and of Solihull appear to be particularly high for all of the five months Feb to June when compared to the national sanction rate. There may be valid reasons for this apparent over-sanctioning but to date a valid reason has not been identified. This has led to speculation that individual job centres are pursuing their own, or locally determined, sanctioning targets.

An alternative reason for the apparent over-sanctioning may be demographic. Younger claimants may attract sanctions more easily and frequently than older claimants. However, this is speculation. The age profiles of claimants in these two constituencies have not yet been ascertained still less compared to the national age profile of claimants.

The departures from the national sanction rate are statistically significant (ie more than 2 standard deviations away from the expected counts) for all constituencies, save for Selly Oak.

Appendix: Source data

Appendix 1 Sanctions Appendix 2 Sanctions

The truth about unemployment?

An interesting paper from 2008 by Krueger and Mueller, entitled The Lot of the Unemployed: A Time Use Perspective, compares the time use of the unemployed to the time use of the employed. It does this for the USA, Canada and several European countries. The paper can be accessed here 

The paper’s findings and conclusions are as follows:

  1. The unemployed report lower levels of life satisfaction and other indicators of psychological well-being (page 2)
  2. Time spent searching for a job appears to coincide with particularly unpleasant emotional experiences (page 21). The unemployed express particularly high feelings of sadness during episodes involving job search. In addition, feeling stressed is high during job search and feeling happy is low (page 10)
  3. The unemployed, unsurprisingly, spend considerably more time searching for a new job than do the employed and those who are classified as out of the labour force (pages 2 and 13)
  4. The unemployed in the USA and Canada spend more than twice as much time searching for a new job than do the unemployed in Western Europe and eastern Europe, and eight times more than in the Nordic countries (page 3)
  5. The unemployed experience elevated levels of sadness during periods of watching television, an activity that consumes a great deal of their time (page 10)
  6. The parameters of a nation’s unemployment benefits system (ie its generosity) do not appear to affect the amount of time devoted to job search (page 21). This conclusion is tentative because the study is based on a comprehensive definition of job seeker – a definition that captures all job seekers irrespective of whether or not they claim out of work benefits.
  7. A nation’s wage dispersion, or inequality, is a strong predictor of the amount of time the unemployed devote to job search (page 22). A larger wage dispersion (more inequality) predicts more time spent on job search.
  8. The paper is based on small samples and so caution should be exercised in reaching hard and fast conclusions. Further research is needed.

Regional variability in the application of JSA sanctions

Variability of JSA Sanctions between JCP Districts

An investigation into the level and appropriateness of JCP’s use of benefit sanctions, including differences of approach between JCP Districts

Submitted to the House of Commons Select Committee to examine the role of Jobcentre Plus in the reformed welfare system.

By TheUxbridgeGraduate

An independent analyst

Prepared in April 2013

Specific Terms of Reference

To comment on JCP’s role in relation to the rights and responsibilities of benefit claimants, including: the effectiveness of benefit conditionality, particularly job-seeking conditionality and the mandatory “work-focused interview”; and the level and appropriateness of JCP’s use of benefit sanctions, including differences of approach between JCP Districts.

Section 1   Executive Summary

 My submission focuses on the final sentence in the Specific Terms of Reference, namely,“the level and appropriateness of JCP’s use of benefit sanctions, including differences of approach between JCP Districts”.

  1. In March 2013, I conducted a brief statistical study to ascertain whether JSA sanction rates varied significantly across England. This was in response to concerns that targets were driving JSA sanctions. The study was undertaken on the belief that if a single, over-arching target was in operation across the UK then variation between regions would be found to be random and statistically insignificant. That is, sanctions rates would be essentially uniform across the UK.
  2. My study found statistically significant variation in sanctions rates between the eight English areas selected for the study.  In particular, sanctions regimes appeared statistically significantly harsher in London and the West Midlands than in Tyne and Wear, Merseyside, and the other northern metropolitan counties.
  3. A conclusion from that study was that a single national target did not seem to be in operation. However, the conclusion was tentative because of the imperfect data used in the study.
  4. I have since undertaken a fuller and better designed statistical study on the same eight areas. This second study forms the platform upon which this submission is based. I believe the results from the second study are reliable.
  5. The latter study confirms the first study’s conclusion, i.e., that a single national target is not in operation, that Tyne & Wear and Merseyside have the lowest sanctions rates, that London and the West Midlands have higher than expected sanctions rates.
  6. Both studies suggest that sanctions rates are a policy variable under the control of managers at regional, district or job centre level. Hence arbitrary and aggressive sanctions decisions may be the product of delegated sanctions policies, resulting in a post code lottery for claimants.
  7. The Select Committee is urged to seek an explanation from DWP for why sanctions policies are more aggressive in London and West Midlands. The Select Committee is also urged to consider whether aggressive sanctions policies are compatible with the social security system, a large part of which is administered by DWP.

Section 2   Background

  1. There have been several disturbing recent accounts of JSA claimants being sanctioned for seemingly trivial reasons. A sanction is usually a very serious penalty to impose on an individual for whom JSA may be the sole source of income. Liberal application of sanctions runs counter to the notion of social security which ostensibly is to provide a safety net to people in need. Removing an individual’s benefit can realistically propel that individual into destitution. One would therefore hope that a sanction would be applied only as a last resort when all other measures have failed.
  2. Some commentators have suggested that aggressive sanctioning of claimants has arisen because targets have been set, either at the centre, or by autonomous regional or district managers, or even by individual job centre managers themselves. Some compelling anecdotal and written evidence has recently emerged that may confirm the existence of regional or district targets.

 Section 3    Scope of my study

  1. Initially, the purpose of my investigation was to ascertain whether sanctions were being applied to meet targets. By establishing whether significant variation existed between regions, I hoped to conclude one way or another whether targets were guiding sanctions use.
  2. Because of data and possible methodological limitations, I have now confined my analysis to simply ascertaining whether significant regional variation exists in sanctions rates or whether sanctions rates are uniform across the regions.
  3. Confirmation of uniform sanctions rates across regions admits of one of the following conclusions set out in points 4 and 5:
  4. A nationally set target exists and hence uniform sanctions rates arise through individual job centres complying with instructions received from the centre in pursuit of the target.
  5. Uniform sanctions rates arise solely because claimant job-seeking behaviour is uniform across regions. In this case sanctions solely reflect appropriate responses by job centre staff/decision makers.
  6. Confirmation of differential (non-uniform) sanctions rates between regions admits of one of the following conclusions, set out in points 7 and 8
  7. Claimant job-seeking behaviour varies from region to region and the application of differential sanctions rates    reflects appropriate responses by job centre staff/decision makers.
  8. Sanctions policy is being determined at regional or district level, or even by individual job centre managers. If true, then a    post-code lottery is faced by claimants who may be subject to an arbitrary and aggressive sanctions policy in one region or to a more nuanced policy in another.
  9. My main purpose is to provide numerical and statistical evidence to the Select Committee on this topic. I also set out the values which I hope will guide the Select Committee in its deliberations.
  10. All data used in the study have been set out in tables in later sections with the sources (ONS and DWP) acknowledged.

Section 4   Methodology

  1. The study rests on the assumption that the number of sanctions issued will be proportional to the number of claimants on a region’s books, i.e., higher claimant counts will result in higher sanction counts.
  2. The six English metropolitan counties, plus Inner and Outer London, were selected for the study on the ground of homogeneity. The number of regions was restricted to eight to make the data collection and processing more manageable. Including more areas would not add much additional information to confirming whether sanctions rates are uniform or not.
  3. The claimant counts for each of the eight regions for the period 10 May 2011 to 10 April 2012 were collected from the ONS website. The average monthly claimant count for each of the eight regions was computed. These average monthly claimant counts were used to weight and distribute the actual sanction count over the regions to obtain an expected sanctions count under the hypothesis that sanction rates are uniform.
  4. The actual sanctions counts compiled by DWP for the period 1 April 2011 to 21 October 2012 for each of the eight regions were compared to the expected sanctions count.  The sanctions data supplied by DWP were not broken down into months and so a time-series analysis was not possible.
  5. The actual and expected sanctions counts for each region are shown in the following table, together with the average monthly claimant counts used to calculate the expected counts. A visual plot of actual versus expected sanctions counts also follows.


Period 11 May 2011 to 10 April 2012

Period 1 April 2011 to 31 March 2012

Monthly claimant count on average

Sanctions count

Count (ONS)







Tyne and Wear










South Yorkshire





Greater Manchester





West Yorkshire





Inner London





West Midlands





Outer London










Sanctions for report good version

6.   Under the hypothesis of uniform sanction rates across the regions a test statistic was computed and compared to the critical values of the Chi-squared distribution with seven degrees of freedom.

7.  The value of the test statistic is 889.89, which is a very high and emphatically confirms that sanction rates are not uniform across regions. For interested readers, here are the workings for the computation of the test statistic.



Diff squared

Diff squared / E



Tyne and Wear












South Yorkshire






Greater Manchester






West Yorkshire






Inner London






West Midlands






Outer London










Test statistic


Section 5    Discussion of results

  1. Inspecting the above table enables us to see which regions are contributing to the very high test statistic of 889.89.  It is clear that Tyne & Wear, Merseyside, Inner London, West Midlands, and Outer London account for 99% of the test statistic’s value. The remaining three regions account for just 1% between them.  It is the five “high value” regions which should, because they are exceptional, attract attention.
  2. The study indicates that claimants in the two London areas and in the West Midlands are significantly more likely to be sanctioned than their peers in the other areas. Why this is the case may be worthy of further investigation. Either the extra sanctions arise because claimants in these areas are less diligent in their job searches, or managers of these areas are pursuing aggressive sanctions policies. Are area managers authorised to determine their own sanctions policy?  An aggressive sanctions policy might well cause aggrieved claimants to believe they have been sanctioned because targets are the driving force.
  3. In contrast, claimants in Tyne & Wear and in Merseyside are less likely to be sanctioned than their peers in the other areas. Again, further investigation may be needed to explain this variability. Have the managers in these areas been told to “go easy” on claimants by the centre? Or has the more relaxed sanctions policy been set at regional level?

Section 6     Conclusions, summary and recommendations

  1. The statistics show overwhelmingly that the likelihood of a sanction being applied depends on region. The most likely explanation for this is that sanctions policies are being determined locally.
  2. This may raise issues of equity and fairness. For example, is it fair that a claimant should face a greater risk of a sanction simply by virtue of their area? Is it fair that a claimant’s technical or minor breach of a job seeker agreement is punished with a sanction in one area but is forgiven in another? Should not all claimants be subject to the same disciplinary regime irrespective of their region? I urge the Select Committee to consider this matter in its deliberations.
  3. Delegated sanctions policy may also bring forth an issue of accountability. The legislation empowers sanctions to be applied in pursuit of a specific purpose. Aggressive sanctions policies give the impression that some regions may be using sanctions for purposes other than authorised by law. For example, if area managers have taken it on themselves to use sanctions as a deficit reduction tool then arguably this is unlawful. Similarly, if these same managers have set targets for their regions then this is likely to be arbitrary and again unlawful. I suggest the issue of accountability and lawfulness may be relevant considerations for the Select Committee.
  4. Further to the issue of accountability, it seems unlikely that DWP can be unaware of the differential (non-uniform) sanctions rates across the regions. My guess is that DWP must be monitoring how sanctions are applied across areas, perhaps using methodologies similar to the one outlined in this submission. If so, then DWP should be in a position to explain and justify the differential sanction rates across regions I urge the Select Committee to seek such an explanation and justification from DWP.
  5. If DWP does not have systems to monitor how sanctions are being applied across regions then I would suggest its management control systems are remiss. I urge the Select Committee to explore this matter with DWP when its representatives appear.
  6. I also ask the Select Committee to bear in mind the purpose of social security when it considers sanctions in relation to job seekers.  An aggressive sanctions policy, where it exists, runs counter to the idea underpinning social security. I suggest it is incongruous to punish job seekers with further impoverishment, if not destitution, with sanctions imposed by a major component of the social security system. 

Section 7   Regional claimant counts (sourced from ONS)  (Redacted in on-line version) 

Section 8    About Me

I am a freelance, independent analyst. I trained as a Management Accountant and have received post-graduate training in industrial statistical methodology from a reputable British university. I am not in receipt of out-of-work benefits or under sanction.

My first study can be found via this link:

Are benefit sanctions being applied consistently, as claimed by the DWP? Statistical evidence suggests not


In the UK, unemployment benefit is known as Job Seekers Allowance, or JSA.  Claimants for this benefit must demonstrate to the government’s Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) that they are actively seeking work. Failure to demonstrate an active job search may result in withdrawal of JSA by way of penalty. The penalty, which may last for three years, is known as a sanction. The ostensible purpose of a sanction is to penalise a claimant who is not actively seeking work.

Are sanctions being applied unlawfully?

In the last two years, the frequency with which sanctions have been used has increased noticeably. Some commentators suggest the increasing use of sanctions has not been justified. Anecdotal evidence of sanctions being applied for trivial reasons, or without sufficient or just cause, support the case that they are being misused. Further, there is now speculation that DWP is working to targets and that sanctions are being applied to meet these targets. In short, the sanctions, it is suggested, are being used to meet purposes separate from those set out in legislation and approved by Parliament. If true, this would mean, of course, that sanctions are being applied unlawfully by DWP. An independent review of DWP’s use of sanctions, we have been told, is now to take place to investigate these matters.

Some preliminary thoughts

In advance of the review, I have undertaken a quick statistical analysis using sanctions data compiled by DWP for the 18 months April 2011 to October 2012. My analysis is limited to discovering whether sanctions are being applied consistently from region to region in England. The regions I selected for the study are the six Metropolitan Counties together with Inner and Outer London. Hence eight regions form the sample in my study. My conclusion, although based on imperfect data, is that a rough but statistically significant north-south gradient exists, with a lower frequency of sanctions in the northern regions.


The variation in sanctions frequency between region is not consistent with the hypothesis that claimant behaviour is independent of region. So what is causing this variation? If sanctions targets were being set at regional level without the centre’s knowledge, then we might expect to find statistically significant variation in the regional sanctions frequencies. This is indeed what this brief study finds – the regional variation uncovered by this study is statistically significant at the 0.05% level. So the results of this study are consistent with the hypothesis of sanctions policies and targets being determined regionally, at least in some of the regions.


It is hoped that the promised government review will use a quantitative approach and will have access to better data than did this study. A quantitative and well resourced  study, perhaps using a similar approach as used by this short study, may produce more definitive conclusions.


1.  Sanctions data  for period 1/4/11 to 21/10/12 sourced from DWP Information, Governance & Security Directorate, via @AnitaBellows12 to whom a hat-tip is hereby given

2. Claimant Count  for January 2013 sourced from ONS website


A Chi Squared test was used to test for independence between region and sanction count. The 6 Metropolitan Counties were selected for the sample on the ground of speed and homogeneity. Inner and Outer London were added in to make the number of regions up to 8.

The” actual” sanctions count for the month of January 2013 was derived from from the sanctions count  for the 18 months April 2011 to October 2012 compiled by DWP. No sanctions figures could be found for January 2013. To arrive at a sanctions count for January 2013 the 18 month sanctions count was divided by 18 for each region.  There is no pretence that the resulting January sanction figure is precise, but the conclusion is unlikely to be different because of this. The purpose of this study is merely to discover, even if tentatively, whether there is a regional effect on sanction frequencies. The data, even though imperfect, are adequate for this limited purpose.

The actual claimant count came from the January 2013 ONS release. This  month was chosen because the claimant count was supplied in a way geographically consistent with the sanction count (ie the figures for both series were analysed into the same regional definitions). The claimant count was used to calculate the expected sanctions count for a region.

The calculated test statistic came out at 78. The probability of obtaining a test statistic of this magnitude with 7 degrees of  freedom under the hypothesis of independence between region and sanctions frequency is virtually zero.

Sanctions 3

Labour Force Statistics: How good are they?


I am grateful to ONS for providing me with the numbers that populate the table. ONS warns the numbers are experimental. I have assumed this is why the table’s quarter-end counts may not reconcile to the statistics separately released by ONS at the end of the Sept 2012 quarter.

 A 3-state workforce

The table shows that ONS uses a 3-state model – that is workers are shown in the table as being in one of three states:  in work, unemployed or inactive. Workers are individuals between the ages of 16 and 64.

People classed as in-work is the sum of those in employment, those in self-employment, and those on government workfare schemes. People classed as unemployed are those actively seeking work, even if they are not claiming out-of-work benefits.  People classed as inactive are those of working age who are not employed/self-employed and who are not seeking work.


The table shows the transitions workers have made from one state to another during the quarter.

For example, the In-work row indicates that 28.467 million were in work at the start of the quarter (ie on 1 July 2012). Reading the figures in this row, we can determine that 27.596 million of those in work at the start of the quarter were still in work at the end of the quarter (ie on 30 Sept 2012). We can also see that 395,000 of those in work at the start of the quarter became unemployed and 476,000 became economically inactive.

Similarly, with the next row down, we can see that of the 2.545 million unemployed workers at the start of the quarter 591,000 found work, 1.564 million remained unemployed, and 390,000 became inactive.

The next row down shows that of those inactive workers at the start of the quarter, 437,000 found work, 508,000 declared themselves to be looking for work, whilst 8.017 million continued to be economically inactive.

A 4-state model

The inclusion of workfare participants in the In-work state adds to the controversy that surrounds workfare schemes. Including workfare participants in the in-work count does not assist the public or decision-makers to evaluate how well these schemes help the participants into work.  For this to happen, I suggest ONS should adopt a 4-state model with the workfare count as the fourth state. Transitions to and from this state could then be measured and published.


It appears that transitions between states for the UK labour force have not historically been routinely published.  ONS now appears to be investing effort to address this issue. So far the transitions data it has collated are experimental. ONS appears currently to be developing its methodology, presumably so that transitional flows reconcile to the separately determined end-point statistics. I suggest a further improvement would be for ONS to adopt and publish a 4-state transition analysis which includes workfare as the fourth state. The improved accountability will assist taxpayers to assess whether DWP is effective in helping people into work. Historically, this task may have not been easy for analysts and taxpayers.