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Research published: November 2012  

In 2012, Turn2us commissioned a team of policy experts co-ordinated by the University of Kent team to carry out a major research study assessing the impact of stigma and other social influences on applying for benefits. The research team was composed of Ben Baumberg (senior lecturer in social policy at the University of Kent), Kate Bell (former policy director at Gingerbread) & Declan Gaffney (independent policy consultant).

Key findings

The public vastly overestimated the numbers of people ‘claiming falsely’ or ‘committing fraud’
1 in 5 people believe a majority of claims are false, while 14% believe a majority of claims are fraudulent. The Government’s own statistics indicate an actual fraud rate of around 1%
The public now see claimants as less deserving than they did 20 years ago, with noticeable shifts in opinion in the late 1990s and early 2000s

Evidence was found to support the idea that negative media coverage is linked to stigma – with people who read more stigmatising newspapers perceiving higher levels of fraud and greater personal stigma

Both a national survey and use of focus groups demonstrated that stigma is impacting on both take up of tax credits and benefits. Many are making a choice whether to ‘heat or eat’ because of a deep-seated sense of shame at the prospect of claiming

Non-take up of benefits has risen concurrently with stigma.
Recommendations on reducing stigma

To reduce stigma, the study makes a number of suggestions on:

  • Delivery of benefits
  • Design of the benefit system
  • Role of the media
  • Examining the role of policymakers and public messages around benefits.

Way forward

As a next step, Turn2us intends to widely publicise the findings and recommendations of this study to policy makers.

The first stage of this process was a round table discussion held by the policy and research team in Westminster on Tuesday 23 October 2012. Attendees included Kate Green MP, Luciana Berger MP, Meg Munn MP, Baroness Lister of Burtersett, the chief executives of Child Poverty Action Group and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation as well as journalists and representatives from think tanks and third sector organisations.

Read the Benefits Stigma in Britain research report (PDF file size 1,611kb)

Read the Appendices, Benefits Stigma in Britain (PDF file size 415kb)

Read between the lines: confronting the myths about the benefits system

We have also launched a smaller report, Read between the lines: confronting the myths about the benefits system, which will help campaigners tackle the inaccuracies that have for too long dominated the discussion around benefits.

Access Read between the lines: confronting the myths about the benefits system (PDF file size 1,001kb)

Read between the lines: myth busting video

Watch our video which highlights and dispels the most common myths surrounding benefit claimants.