© 2018

Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment?

Benefit Sanctions in the UK


Part of the Palgrave Socio-Legal Studies book series (PSLS)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xii
  2. Michael Adler
    Pages 1-7
  3. Michael Adler
    Pages 129-136
  4. Michael Adler
    Pages 149-151
  5. Back Matter
    Pages 153-171

About this book


The book subjects the largely hidden phenomenon of benefit sanctions in the UK to sustained examination and critique. It comprises twelve chapters dealing with the terms ‘cruel’, ‘inhuman’ and ‘degrading’ that are used as a benchmark for assessing benefit sanctions; benefit sanctions as a matter of public concern; the historical development of benefit sanctions in the UK; changes in the scope and severity of benefit sanctions; conditionality and the changing relationship between the citizen and the state; the impact and effectiveness of benefit sanctions; benefit sanctions and administrative justice; the role of law in protecting the right to a social minimum; a comparison of benefit sanctions with court fines; benefit sanctions and the rule of law; and what, if anything, can be done about benefit sanctions. Each chapter ends with a paragraph that attempts to highlight the most salient points in that chapter, and the book ends with a short conclusion in which benefit sanctions are assessed against the chosen benchmark.


social security benefits welfare welfare state socio-legal social rights austerity human rights punishment courts

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.School of Social and Political ScienceUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghUnited Kingdom

About the authors

Michael Adler is Emeritus Professor of Socio-Legal Studies at the University of Edinburgh and Editor of the European Journal of Social Security.  His research has focused on the interface between public law and social policy, in particular on the nature of administrative justice, the resolution of administrative grievances and the effectiveness of different mechanisms of dispute resolution.  He is the author of two books (Parental Choice and Social Policy (Edinburgh University Press, 1989) and Discourse, Power and Justice (Routledge, 1994) and the editor of five more, most recently of Administrative Justice in Context (Hart Publishing, 2010) as well as numerous articles and book chapters.

Bibliographic information


“The book is highly readable and engaging … . this is not only an informative book, but one written with (perhaps Quixotic) passion and fervour that are not common enough in academic literature. It seeks not only to educate and inform, but to contribute towards making the world (of benefit sanctions in the UK, at least) a fairer place, and for that it should be commended.” (Amir Paz-Fuchs, Journal of Social Policy, Vol. 48 (4), October, 2019)

“The book is rigorously empirical in its approach. … The distinctive contribution of Adler’s book is the assessment of the sanctions regime in the light of the literature on administrative justice, the rule of law and human rights.” (David Webster, Local Economy, Vol. 34 (3), 2019)

"The book itself is invaluable to academics researching in the fields of welfare legislation, administrative justice and on the issue of citizenship, and its findings and recommendations deserve to be taken on board thoroughly by the Department for Work and Pensions." (Philip Larkin, Journal of Social Security Law, Issue 1, March, 2019)

“Adler’s very thorough, very readable study is extremely important because he finds, collates and interprets the evidence to produce compelling reasons to support his conclusion that benefits sanctions are cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. … Adler’s study will help those who want to make that argument about the deficiencies of benefit sanctions, as well as promoting the cause of evidence-based policy-making.” (Brian Thompson, UKAJI,, October, 2018)

“This well-evidenced, well-argued, and comprehensive book offers precisely the kind of evaluation of benefit sanctions that was required. Ministers, shadow ministers, members of parliament, civil servants, and anyone interested in the UK’s benefits system, should read it.” (Citizen’s Income newsletter, Issue (04), 2018)