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The stigma of claiming benefits: a quantitative study

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 October 2015

School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research (SSPSSR), University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NZ, UK email:


Stigma has long been viewed by some as essential to discourage excessive claims, yet seen by others as a cause of non-take-up by people in need and as a form of symbolic violence. More recently, there has been a resurgence of interest in the links between shame and poverty (including the role of benefits), and particular concerns about media/political rhetoric in the UK. Yet while our knowledge of benefits stigma has been enhanced by theoretical/qualitative contributions, few quantitative studies examine its extent or patterning. This paper therefore reports the results of a 2012 nationally-representative survey in the UK. It finds sub-types of stigma are reported by 10–19 per cent for each benefit, but 34 per cent report either personal stigma (their own view) or stigmatisation (perceived stigma by others) for at least one benefit, and over one-quarter say a stigma-related reason would make them less likely to claim. One-third of claimants themselves report some degree of stigma around their claim. Against the predictions of ‘dependency culture’ claims, however, respondents in high-claim areas were more likely to stigmatise benefits, both before and after accounting for other factors. The paper concludes by considering lessons for future benefits stigma studies, and policy options to reduce benefits stigma.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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