(Some) Benefit Sanctions as Inhumane or Degrading Punishment

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As O’Cinneide (2008) and Simpson (2014) have observed, there has been only limited success in using Article 3 and Treatment to challenge government policies linked to destitution. Destitution has been addressed through the lens of Article 3 ECHR in which the focus has been on Inhumane or Degrading Treatment. Yet, a leading cause of destitution is social security policy. One such policy – and one which is a leading cause of destitution in the United Kingdom – is that of benefit sanctions.

Mavronicola (2015) observes that Article 3 ECHR prohibits not only treatment but rather Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Building on the work of Adler (2018) ‘Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment? Benefit Sanctions in the UK’ this paper explores the potential for (some) benefit sanctions to engage the concept of inhumane or degrading punishment. To do so, this paper establishes benefit sanctions as a form of punishment, argues that benefit sanctions fulfil the concept of punishment as elaborated by the jurisprudence of the ECtHR, and explores the extent to which (some) benefit sanctions are inhumane or degrading.

In suggesting that some benefit sanctions as cruel or inhumane punishment this paper seeks to open new avenues for leveraging the ECHR against harms caused by social security policy. Combined with the absolute nature of Article 3, this reimagining of approaches to engaging benefit sanctions under the ECHR may serve as a powerful tool for challenging benefit sanctions and thus reducing destitution.
Period20 Feb 2023
Event typeConference
LocationEdinburghShow on map
Degree of RecognitionNational