This report examines the impact of the welfare reform and welfare-to-work programmes introduced by the 2010–15 Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition Government and the Conservative Government elected in May 2015. A particular aim of the review was to examine the evidence about the ways in which protected groups, and subsets of these, for example lone parents, have been affected by these reforms. A further aim was to examine the gaps in the research evidence, both for particular reforms, and by protected characteristic. The research was commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in 2017 as part of a staged programme of work, which also included a cumulative impact assessment (CIA) (Portes and Reed, 2018) and built on earlier work on CIA (Reed and Portes, 2014; EHRC, 2012, 2015).
Since 2010, the UK welfare system has experienced far-reaching changes and major welfare reforms have been introduced. These range from high-level policy design, in terms of eligibility and payments, to delivery and implementation. This has included: the replacement of six key benefits with Universal Credit (UC); the introduction of an intensified conditionality and the sanctioning regime, whereby claimants are required to meet certain conditions or face losing benefits; and changes to assessment and entitlement to incapacity and disability-related benefits. The changes to social security and welfare-to-work were introduced gradually from the 2010 emergency Budget and some of the reforms, notably UC, have yet to be fully implemented. Thus the context is an evolving one and the impacts of the reforms are still emerging.