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The Everyday Realities of Welfare Reform
Author: Ruth Patrick

What does day-to-day life involve for those who receive out-of-work benefits? Is the political focus on moving people from ‘welfare’ and into work the right one? And do mainstream political and media accounts of the ‘problem’ of ‘welfare’ accurately reflect lived realities?

For whose benefit? The everyday realities of welfare reform explores these questions by talking to those directly affected by recent reforms. Ruth Patrick interviewed single parents, disabled people and young jobseekers on benefits repeatedly over five years to find out how they experienced the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, and whether the welfare state still offers meaningful protection and security in times of need. She reflects on the mismatch between the portrayal of ‘welfare’ and everyday experiences, and the consequences of this for the UK’s ongoing welfare reform programme.

Exploring issues including the meaning of dependency, the impact of benefit sanctions and the reach of benefits stigma, this important book makes a timely contribution to ongoing debates about the efficacy and ethics of welfare reform.

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Author: Ruth Patrick

This paper critically explores the Westminster coalition government’s efforts to assist disabled people off benefits and into paid employment, focusing on the ongoing migration of Incapacity Benefit claimants onto Employment and Support Allowance. Drawing on the social model of disability, it is argued that the current reform agenda individualises the problem of disability; placing too much emphasis on disabled people’s employability while neglecting broader societal barriers to their full and equal labour market participation. Given these shortcomings, it seems unlikely that the Coalition’s approach will help disabled people to make the transition from welfare-to-work.

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Author: Ruth Patrick

In the UK, a dominant narrative operates to stereotype and stigmatise out-of-work benefit claimants as inactive welfare dependents who require activation if they are to enter paid employment and behave responsibly. Drawing upon a small-scale qualitative longitudinal study into lived experiences of welfare reform, this paper explores how out-of-work claimants respond to this dominant narrative. The paper illustrates the reach of benefits stigma, and the strategies adopted by claimants to manage such stigma: most notably via an ‘othering’ of those deemed less deserving. It is argued that this ‘othering’ is best understood as an admittedly defensive form of citizenship engagement.

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Author: Ruth Patrick

With clear links to this collection’s exploration of the possible emergence of a ‘new behaviourism’, this chapter considers the Coalition’s welfareto-work strategy and explores the valorisation of work in which much of the policy agenda and related discourse is rooted. Welfare-to-work measures encompass a wide range of policies intended to encourage, enable and even compel benefit claimants to seek paid employment. In most recent years, welfareto-work policies have centred on efforts to ensure that claimants are taking all reasonable steps to return to work, with a notable increase in the use of both incentives and sanctions to promote working behaviour. Indeed, activation measures which utilise welfare conditionality (attaching behavioural conditions to benefit receipt) have been employed with increasing vigour in the UK since Thatcher’s social security reforms in the mid 1980s, and are today in evidence across the OECD region.

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Author: Ruth Patrick

Chapter 6 explores whether and how far benefit claimants can see a logic for changes to the benefits system. The interviews with out-of-work benefit claimants show that many were angered by the impacts of Cameron’s welfare reforms on their own lives but nonetheless were supportive of the government’s broad agenda. This underlines the depth of a ‘new moral consensus on welfare’ that problematizes out-of-work benefits and those who claim them. In such an environment, it is very difficult for individual claimants to make a positive case for ‘welfare’ in general terms which, in turn, helps further embed the Conservative’s welfare reform narrative.

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Author: Ruth Patrick

This chapter introduces those interviewed for the book, and details their past and present lives, as well as their aspirations and hopes for the future. It describes the ‘work’ that ‘getting by’ on benefits entails, which includes tight budgeting, making hard choices, going without, and sometimes having to shoplift for basic necessities. This chapter also highlights the forms of socially valuable contribution in which many of the participants were engaged, a counter to David Cameron’s depiction of claimants ‘sitting on the sofa waiting for their benefit cheques to arrive’. Further, this chapter discusses the aspirations of individuals, and how individuals often hoped for a future in paid work, and where they could feel ordinary and secure. Overall, this chapter begins the work of detailing lived experiences – citizenship from below – and in so doing challenges the dominant citizenship narrative from above.

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Author: Ruth Patrick

This chapter focuses on individuals’ experiences of welfare reform, and how changes to benefits are anticipated, experienced and reflected upon. Reforms detailed include changes to disability benefits, the intensification and extension of welfare conditionality, and the marked increase in the use of benefit sanctions. These changes are ongoing, and examining their impact and how they are experienced thus has an ongoing relevance and timeliness. This chapter details the ‘work’ and ‘costs’ associated with welfare reform, highlighting the extent to which together these constitute the significant ‘burden’ caused by benefit changes. Further, the ways in which welfare conditionality sometimes leads to perverse consequences is detailed – showing that conditionality and sanctions can impede rather than aid transitions from welfare to work.

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Author: Ruth Patrick

This chapter provides an update on nine of the participants from the research, who were interviewed for a fourth time in the summer of 2016. These interviews – which stretched the whole research period to five years – provided an opportunity to explore most recent responses to welfare reform, and levels of engagement with paid employment. They reveal diverse trajectories, which all seem to pivot around the central place of employment in individual lives (whether as an aspiration or everyday reality). These various trajectories are explored, and key themes to emerge from the 2016 interviews detailed. These encompass the shortcomings with welfare-to-work support, the persistence of poverty, responses to Poverty Porn and dynamic experiences of benefits stigma.

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Author: Ruth Patrick

This concluding chapter summarises the central argument of this book: that there is a considerable disjunct between citizenship from above, and citizenship as it is lived and experienced from below. The citizenship consequences of this disjunct are discussed, and the implications for the future social in/exclusion of those who rely on benefits for all or most of their income. Further, this chapter considers whether a call for greater social citizenship rights is still a pertinent and effective one, or whether instead social citizenship has been co-opted by the dominant work-based citizenship narrative from above. Although citizenship’s original emancipatory intent has been subverted by recent governments, there remains scope in calls for genuine and meaningful social inclusion and social rights that offer protection and support to all citizens. Here, there is particular potential in a focus on social security as a mechanism for addressing the pervasive insecurity that characterises everyday life. Policy makers also need to listen much more closely to those with the ‘expertise by experience’ that comes with living with poverty and welfare reform, and these voices need to be better incorporated into political and public debates.

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Author: Ruth Patrick

This chapter outlines the rationale behind conducting repeat interviews with out-of-work benefit claimants in an effort to better understand lived experiences of welfare reform. It introduces readers to the political and theoretical context, and highlights the value in employing social citizenship as a theoretical lens in order to tease out citizenship from above and below. The recent context of welfare reform in the UK is also introduced, highlighting the extent to which successive rounds of welfare reform have cumulatively reworked the relationship between the citizen and the state. The research on which this book is based is detailed, and the value in working through and across time by taking a qualitative longitudinal approach highlighted.

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