Welfare Struggles as Class Struggle

Arianna Introna reports on the resistance to increased harassment of benefits claimants.

In March 2023 The Glasgow Keelie reported an escalation in the harassment and threat of sanction-induced poverty faced by Universal Credit (UC) claimants in Glasgow. A new DWP pilot in 11 Glasgow jobcentres had been in operation since the 27th of February 2023, forcing ‘thousands of Universal Credit claimants to compulsorily attend jobcentres 10 times over a 2-week period’. [1] Because failure to attend jobcentre appointments constitutes ground for sanctions, the risk for UC claimants to have benefits stopped increased exponentially. The Keelie also reported how the PCS union condemned the pilot scheme, and that claimants’ solidarity group Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty (ECAP) described the pilot as a punitive measure aimed at forcing people to accept poor wages and working conditions by making the claiming of Universal Credit more difficult.

jobcentre protest
ECAP protest at a jobcentre in Edinburgh

ECAP’s analysis positions the current intensification in conditionality and harassment of claimants within an anti-capitalist standpoint of class antagonism and struggle: any attack on people claiming Universal Credit, or disability benefits, is ultimately an attack on the whole of the working class.

How this is the case is captured by the simultaneous attack on in-work Universal Credit claimants and claimants of out-of-work disability benefits.

When the former are concerned, more claimants have been forced to attend jobcentre appointments by an increase of the Administrative Earnings Threshold (AET), which divides UC claimants into a ‘Light Touch’ group and an ‘Intensive Work Search’ group based on earnings and working hours. This increase has meant that more claimants have been moved into the ‘Intensive Work Search’ group and been forced to undertake activities and attend jobcentre appointments, with the attendant risk of sanctions. While the DWP Press Release of the 30th of January 2023 presents the increase as an opportunity for ‘additional claimants’ to ‘benefit from more face-to-face time with a work coach, allowing them to access opportunities to increase their earnings’,2 the real effect has been an expansion in claimants’ vulnerability to harassment and sanctions.

Most importantly, the same DWP Press Release introduces the actual erosion of the divide between ‘Light Touch’ and ‘Intensive Work Search’ groups. It anticipates that ‘In Work Progression support’ would become mandatory for claimants in the ‘Light Touch’ group as of September 2023, exposing increased numbers of low-paid and part-time workers to the possibility to be sanctioned.

Where the attack on disabled claimants is concerned, the DWP Press Release of the 5th of September 2023 has announced ‘new welfare reforms to help thousands into work’, targeting ‘Disabled people and those with health conditions, who are currently being held back from improving their lives through work’. [3] The reforms revolve around changes to the categories of the Work Capability Assessment, which decides claimants’ eligibility for out-of-work welfare support. While the DWP justifies these changes as warranted by the ‘rise of flexible and home working and better employer support for disabled people and people with health conditions’. Disabled People Against Cuts have denounced them as an outright attack on disabled people and, specifically, out-of-work benefits for disabled people.

In response to the rise in sanctions and conditionality imposed on UC claimants, claimants’ solidarity and mutual aid is a fundamental tool of the class struggle that runs through the delivery and claiming of social welfare. Groups such as Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty gather information to provide people with practical ideas for avoiding and challenging sanctions, for making sure that one’s claimant’s agreement is reasonable, and for being accompanied to any tricky appointments by a friend or advisor.

This antagonistic framework of claimant solidarity action is captured by ECAP’s message ‘RESIST SANCTIONS! LET’S ACT TOGETHER AND MAKE SANCTIONS UNWORKABLE! Seek solidarity from us and others … CARRY ON CLAIMING! Do not be intimidated into giving up your claim’. It issues from an anti- capitalist perspective which reads poverty as no natural disaster but an inevitable part of an economic system based on exploitation and profit.

Appreciating that welfare struggles belong at the core of class struggle is the second step in developing forms of coalition building and organising that connect claimants’ and workers’ struggles. The first step is challenging working class hostility to claimants of UC or out-of-work benefits, and recognising this hostility as the unfortunate effect of the divide-and-rule tactics that capital deploys against us.

Find out how you can support ECAP at edinburghagainstpoverty.org.uk.


1 ‘Glasgow Target of Universal Credit Shakedown’ (March 2023) https://glasgowkeelie.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/newkeelie-39-final.pdf

2 DWP Press Release, ‘Hundreds of thousands more workers to receive job support boost’ (30 Jan 2023) https://www.gov.uk/government/news/hundreds-of-thousands-more-workers-toreceive-job-support-boost-in-spring

3 DWP Press Release, ‘Government announces new welfare reforms to help thousands into work’ (5 Sept 2023) https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-announces-new-welfare-reforms-to-help-thousands-into-work

Arianna Introna is a disabled researcher, activist, and Associate Lecturer with the Open University (Scotland).