Meet the expert

Meet the Expert - Professor Lisa Scullion

Welcome to 'Meet the Expert', our series bringing you informative interviews with Armed Forces researchers, policy makers and service providers. Read on to learn about current work, aspirations for progress and future work, and insights into expert perspectives on key issues impacting ex-Service personnel and their families.


 mceu_5225614811708078750636.pngIn this issue, we interviewed Professor Lisa Scullion, Professor of Social Policy and Co-Director of the Centre for Research on Inclusive Society at the University of Salford. Lisa's work focuses specifically on understanding the impact of UK welfare reforms. She is also a member of the Ministry of Defence Recovery Expert Advisory Board and the Office for Veterans Affairs Academic Advisory Board. 


Please tell us about your background and how you came to be involved in work relating to the Armed Forces Community.

I am a social policy academic (having undertaken a degree and PhD in social policy). As such, I have always been interested in how the policies that governments introduce, impact those who experience them ‘on the ground.’ I have also always been interested in the experiences of populations who are marginalised or whose voices are less often heard. For example, my PhD focused on female asylum seekers and refugees [1] who were experiencing the then government’s new asylum system and dispersal policy. Following my PhD, I joined the University of Salford as a research assistant (in 2006) based within a research unit (where I have been ever since!) delivering projects focusing on Gypsy-Traveller [2] accommodation needs, Roma and welfare [3], homelessness [4] (to name a few). In 2013, I began working on a large-scale ESRC project called Welfare Conditionality  that explored experiences of welfare reform from the perspective of a diverse range of groups. This was a time when the government introduced Universal Credit as part of its 2012 Welfare Reform Act, and the UK was experiencing fundamental (and not altogether positive) changes to the benefits system. Veterans were not a specific cohort within that study; however, as a researcher conducting fieldwork, I came across people who talked about their Armed Forces background and were experiencing challenges with the system. I began to wonder about the specific challenges Veterans might face within the mainstream benefits system, and how we can ensure their experiences are understood, particularly considering the Armed Forces Covenant. I therefore developed a project in 2016 that would focus specifically on providing that understanding.    

What research projects are you currently working on and how do they fit into the bigger picture of understanding and supporting the Armed Forces Community?

… So, since 2017, I have been leading a project funded by the Forces in Mind Trust called Sanctions, Support and Service Leavers. Very little was known about Veterans’ experiences of the benefits system, beyond anecdotal evidence suggesting that they were not always able to access an appropriate entitlement to welfare support. I therefore developed this project specifically to help us understand how Veterans experience the various aspects of claiming benefits. I would like to mention the team here because the project wouldn’t be possible without having worked with a fantastic team over the lifetime of the project - Philip Martin, Dr David Young, Dr Celia Hynes, Dr Joe Pardoe, Dr Katy Jones, and Professor Peter Dwyer.

The project uses qualitative longitudinal methods (more about this in question 4!) and originally ran for two years (2017–2019), and we launched our findings at a high-profile event at the House of Lords in 2019. I had also been engaging with Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) throughout the project and they were able to use the findings from our report to support their work. Since the publication of our 2019 report [5] (and as a result of the research), the Government increased its support of the DWP Armed Forces Champions (AFC) network by introducing a new model for the AFC network, which includes the formalisation of the AFC role, with at least one AFC in each Jobcentre Plus district, and the introduction of a new Armed Forces Lead role at middle management level to support the work of the AFC’s. Whereas previously the AFC role was one of many roles a staff member was undertaking, it has become a substantive role with a job description. The new role of Armed Forces Lead was introduced to provide supervision and support to the AFC’s in different regions across the UK, as well as undertaking a networking function with third-sector Armed Forces.

In recognition of the impact of the research and the unique dataset that it provides, in early 2020 the research was extended to ensure that the experiences of Veterans were understood during the ongoing implementation of Universal Credit. The project has included 108 Veterans (carrying out 297 in depth interviews to date across various waves) and consulted with 67 stakeholders from a range of organisations supporting Veterans. The project finishes this summer, and we will be organising a big event that brings together all our findings (and impact) over the lifetime of the project.

The research represents the only project of its kind in terms of providing an understanding of the key issues Veterans face when navigating the mainstream benefits system in their transition to civilian life. It has uncovered a range of issues including challenges with understanding eligibility and the application processes, health assessments, conditionality, and interactions with the DWP, and more broadly, the project has helped connect what appeared to be ‘parallel policy worlds’ [6] – that of Veterans support and welfare reform.

Although not originally a focus of the project, the interviews have also illuminated the complexity of the intersections between mainstream benefits and Armed Forces compensation and pensions. However, another significant contribution of the research was making the first ever call [7] (in 2021) for a trauma-informed benefits system – trauma-informed approaches are obviously being adopted within many other services and systems, but until recently the benefits system had been largely absent from that movement.

What are your future aspirations for the impact and utilization of your work/research?

We are incredibly proud that the research has already helped the DWP to enhance the support that they provide to the Armed Forces community. As I mentioned above, they have enhanced their Armed Forces Champions Network, introduced new Leads, and introduced a marker on Universal Credit to help understand how many Veterans are coming into the system. At the moment, we are just finalising a report focusing on benefits assessments – the government have been consulting on scrapping one of the assessments and making changes to this process, and we want to ensure that the experiences of Veterans are considered while changes are being made (we have previously given evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee ‘health assessments’ inquiry on this issue).

There are still so many improvements that can be made to how people experience the benefits system, and our call for trauma-informed approaches is something that we also are now moving forward with (we have given evidence recently about this to another Work and Pensions Committee inquiry – this one focusing on safeguarding vulnerable claimants). As we speak, David Young and I are just starting a project with the DWP that will support a trauma-integration project that they are currently implementing - we are also working with the amazing Professor Chérie Armour on that project! Beyond the mainstream benefits system, my aspiration is for other financial support systems to be able to learn from the work and become more trauma-informed (but more on this in question 5…)

Can you tell us about the methods you tend to use in your research, and why you gravitate towards these kinds of approaches?

Since my PhD (where I undertook in depth interviews with female asylum seekers and refugees), I have dedicated my career to a commitment to the importance of qualitative inquiry for shaping policy and practice! I think qualitative research gives us deeper insights into real world experiences. Much of my research has also focused specifically on qualitative longitudinal (QL) approaches – within social policy research, QL research has long been a key approach [8] This approach enables us to move away from a snapshot and to explore experiences over time – this is particularly valuable when thinking about the impacts of the changing landscape of policy over time. For example, our research has covered periods before, during and in the aftermath of Covid-19 – so we have been able to uniquely capture how Veterans experienced the changes that were made to the benefits system during the pandemic [9] (such as increased benefit levels, the removal of conditionality and the introduction of remote interactions), and also how they are experiencing navigating the post-pandemic system. It has also enabled us to understand the impact of the positive support [10] that the DWP has implemented – such as the enhanced Armed Forces Champions network.   

Given unlimited funding and time, what would be your dream piece of research to undertake involving the Armed Forces community?

Ha, what a great question! Hmm, unlimited funding and time… to be honest I have already been delivering a dream piece of work, particularly given the impact that we have been able to support. For me, the dream would be to continue that work as a long-term longitudinal study that continues to provide an evidence base on how changes to benefits policy and practice impact Veterans – welfare reform is a continuous process, and we need to ensure that we keep looking at how reforms in one policy area can impact people in another. I would also like to extend the work to cover the range of financial support systems that Veterans are interacting with. As I mentioned above, although not originally a focus of the study, our interviews have revealed challenges with navigating Armed Forces compensation and pensions systems. I think extending our existing research to enable a longitudinal understanding of all the financial support systems Veterans are interacting with would be invaluable – particularly through a trauma-informed lens.

Many thanks to Professor Lisa Scullion for sharing her insights.

Catch us next month for another interesting and informative interview with an expert from the Armed Forces Community.


  1. Hunt, L. (2008). Women Asylum Seekers and Refugees: Opportunities, Constraints and the Role of Agency. Social Policy and Society7(3), 281–292. online at:
  2. Scullion, L., Brown, P., & Niner, P. (2012). Accommodating Travelling Showpeople in England. Social Policy and Society11(2), 197–210. doi:10.1017/S1474746411000522 online at:
  3. Martin, P., Scullion, L., & Brown, P. (2017). “We don’t rely on benefits”: challenging mainstream narratives towards Roma migrants in the UK. In J. Hudson, C. Needham, & E. Heins (Eds.), Social Policy Review 29: Analysis and Debate in Social Policy, 2017199–218. Chapter, Bristol University Press. online at:
  4. Scullion, L., Somerville, P., Brown, P. and Morris, G. (2015), Changing homelessness services: revanchism, ‘professionalisation’ and resistance. Health Soc Care Community, 23: 419-427. online at:
  5. Scullion, L., Dwyer, P., Jones, K., Martin, P. and Hynes, C. (2019) Sanctions, Support & Service Leavers: Social security benefits and transitions from military to civilian life: Final report, online at:
  6. Scullion, L., Jones, K., Dwyer, P., Hynes, C., & Martin, P. (2021). Military Veterans and Welfare Reform: Bridging Two Policy Worlds through Qualitative Longitudinal Research. Social Policy and Society20(4), 670–683. Online at:
  7. Scullion, L., & Curchin, K. (2022). Examining Veterans’ Interactions with the UK Social Security System through a Trauma-Informed Lens. Journal of Social Policy51(1), 96–113. Online at:
  8. Corden, A., & Millar, J. (2007). Qualitative Longitudinal Research for Social Policy – Introduction to Themed Section. Social Policy and Society6(4), 529–532. online at:
  9. Scullion, L., Martin, P., Hynes, C., & Young, D. (2022). "10: Social security during COVID-19: the experiences of military veterans". In COVID-19 Collaborations. Bristol, UK: Policy Press. online at:
  10. Scullion, L., Young, D., Martin, P., Hynes, C., Pardoe, J. and Curchin, K. (2023) Towards a trauma-informed social security system Lessons from the Sanctions, Support and Service Leavers project, online at:


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