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Racism and the uneven geography of welfare sanctioning in England

Williams, Andrew ORCID:, Webb, Brian ORCID: and Gale, Richard ORCID: 2024. Racism and the uneven geography of welfare sanctioning in England. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 10.1111/tran.12677

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This paper presents the first spatial analysis of racial disparities in the UK welfare sanction regime. As part of their austerity programme, the UK government tightened the conditionality of welfare programmes and intensified the use of financial penalties against welfare claimants who failed to demonstrate compliance with these conditions. Analysing Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) data from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Office for National Statistics between 2012 and 2019 we draw attention to the spatially uneven and highly racialised geography of welfare sanctions in England. Claimants from racially minoritised backgrounds are consistently more likely to be referred for a sanction by Jobcentre caseworkers and receive an adverse decision at the hands of institutional decision-makers. Within this, however, there are important scalar and spatial differences that warrant critical attention. In rural England, the risk of being sanctioned is substantially higher for all groups, but especially for Mixed heritage and Black/Black British claimants who in some areas are over twice as likely to be sanctioned as their White counterparts. Since ethnicity data have not been published for Universal Credit sanction decisions, the presented evidence offers critical insight into the potential persistence of racial injustice in applying welfare sanctions. We identify ‘hotspots’ of racism in the sanction regime, most of which are in rural areas, before offering three interpretative frameworks through which spatial and racial disparities might be explained. Any suggestion that such disparities simply derive from the behaviour of DWP staff fails to adequately account for deeply entrenched histories of welfare racism, rural racism and the role of welfare sanctioning in dynamics of racial capitalism: that is, disciplining and impoverishing racialised populations in ways that generate conditions for capital accumulation. By contributing new empirical and theoretical insights to the often neglected study of rural austerity and welfare, the paper calls for scholarship to investigate the variegations of welfare, austerity and racial capitalism in diverse rural contexts.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Published Online
Status: In Press
Schools: Geography and Planning (GEOPL)
Publisher: Wiley
ISSN: 1475-5661
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 17 January 2024
Date of Acceptance: 2 January 2024
Last Modified: 21 Feb 2024 10:12

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