Does welfare conditionality reduce democratic participation?

Publication type

Journal Article

Published in

Comparative Political Studies


Sara Watson

Publication date


The past 20 years have witnessed a shift to work-based welfare conditionality within the advanced welfare states, as access to social benefits are increasingly predicated on individuals agreeing to behavioral conditions related to participation in the labor market. Existing literature on the political consequences of this shift offers contradictory expectations. While new paternalists claim that it should increase political participation among benefit recipients, others argue that it has a depressive effect. The majority of existing studies rely on cross-sectional analyses, which leaves them open to charges of selection bias. Utilizing multiple longitudinal research designs, this article finds that conditionality has a depressive effect on patterns of democratic engagement. Welfare conditionality reduces political and civic participation, political interest and efficacy, and personal efficacy. In disaggregating conditionality’s effects across two client groups, the article finds largely positive effects among recipients of the contributory disability benefit but negative effects among means-tested recipients of the lone parent benefit.

Volume and page numbers

48, 645-686





Politics, Citizenship, Labour Market and Welfare Benefits



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