Fair welfare? Understanding the lived experiences of disabled welfare claimants

Brown, Joanne Michelle (2020) Fair welfare? Understanding the lived experiences of disabled welfare claimants. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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The Welfare Reform Act (2012) introduced significant changes to the provision of social security within the UK. These changes not only dramatically impacted disabled people’s experiences of accessing welfare support but also illustrate a transformation of the way ‘deservingness’ is perceived, both publicly and politically. Disabled people have been the hardest hit by such reforms, which have been characterised by punitive eligibility criteria and the extension of conditional welfare arrangements.
This thesis draws upon semi-structured interviews with 36 disabled ESA claimants and 5 key informants from third sector organisations. Findings illustrate a unique insight into the key issues that disabled people experience when going through the claims process and situate these experiences within the context of punishment and violence inflicted by the UK welfare system.
The thesis firstly establishes the policy context by considering how disability-related policies within the UK have served to contain, compensate and control disabled people (Drake, 1999). It then explores the conceptual context of this study, drawing upon Morris’ tenants of citizenship (2005) and the concepts of identities and violence. The methodology provides a reflexive account of my role as a disabled PhD student as I negotiated and challenged my own identities throughout the PhD journey, drawing clear parallels to some of the experience’s interviewees discussed.
This study provides unique empirical data that illustrates not only the inefficacy of welfare conditionality when applied to disabled people, but also, the detrimental impact that conditional approaches to social security have on disabled people’s citizenship, identities and physical and psychological wellbeing. It starkly illustrates how the process and environment of punitive welfare arrangements serve to erode people’s citizenship and enact a form of institutional violence (Cooper and Whyte, 2017; 2018).
The concept of identities is utilised to explore how interviewees’ experiences were influenced by the dominant rhetoric of ‘shirkers’ and ‘scroungers’ (Garthwaite, 2011) and how interviewees internalised such narratives. The process of ‘othering’ served as a justification of welfare reform and therefore removed culpability from the government and placed responsibility on the individual. Interviewees frequently engaged in processes of othering which often reinforced the negative narratives and justified increasingly conditional policy approaches. However, several interviewees challenged such justifications and asserted that welfare reforms were an ‘attack on disabled people’ (Pring, 2017).
Political engagement was identified as a key factor in how disabled welfare claimants chose to identify with their ‘disabled’ or ‘claimant’ identities. This thesis presents an original typology as a means of understanding identities in relation to being a disabled welfare claimant and interviewees’ levels of political engagement.
Overall, this study presents original empirical evidence that demonstrates how welfare changes have led to the erosion of disabled people’s citizenship (Morris, 2005) and substantiates recent conceptualisations of ‘Institutional violence’ (Cooper and Whyte, 2017; 2018). I argue that welfare conditionality is not only an inappropriate tool but instead is an insidious tool which serves to remove welfare entitlement and punish those citizens perceived as no longer ‘deserving’ of support from the state. I argue that the outcome of such policy decisions has enacted a form of institutional violence. Therefore, this study challenges both the ethicality and efficacy of UK policy approaches towards disabled welfare claimants.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: welfare, social security, welfare conditionality, disability, disability studies.
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences
Supervisor's Name: Wright, Professor Sharon and Pearson, Doctor Charlotte
Date of Award: 2020
Depositing User: Joanne Brown
Unique ID: glathesis:2020-81605
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 04 Sep 2020 15:06
Last Modified: 01 Sep 2022 10:40
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.81605
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/81605

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