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Irresponsible citizens? The lived experiences of welfare reform

Patrick, Ruth Elizabeth (2015) Irresponsible citizens? The lived experiences of welfare reform. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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Abstract

This thesis reports on a qualitative longitudinal study into the lived experiences of welfare reform under the 2010-15 Westminster coalition government. Between 2011 and 2013, a small group of out-of-work benefit claimants were interviewed three times as they were directly affected by changes to the benefits system. In these interviews, disability benefit(s) recipients, young jobseekers and single parents shared both their experiences and attitudes to the coalition’s reform programme. The study found a significant disjuncture between the dominant citizenship narratives of recent governments and lived realities for those directly affected by welfare reform. The hard work that ‘getting by’ on benefits demands, and the various forms of socially valuable contribution in which so many of the participants were engaged, counter the dominant characterisation of claimants as inactive and passive. Relationships with paid employment were found to be far more fluid and complex than is suggested by successive governments’ repeated recourse to static divisions between ‘welfare dependants’ and the ‘hardworking majority’. Tracking experiences of welfare reform over time showed the worry and anxiety that changes to benefits were causing, with little evidence of welfare-to-work ‘support’ being experienced positively. There were also examples of participants internalising negative characterisations of claimants, in ways which were profoundly damaging to their sense of self and their wider inclusion within society. Over the past 35 years, welfare reforms and an increasingly negative rhetoric around ‘welfare dependency’ have significantly devalued the social rights of citizenship, with citizenship increasingly operating in exclusionary ways. Those relying on out-of-work benefits are granted a lesser citizenship status, with their right to a ‘modicum of economic security’ (Marshall, 1950, p.8) seriously undermined. There are signs of a shift from ‘conditionality’ to ‘conditioning’, such that individual claimants become accepting of an individualisation of responsibility which places the ‘blame’ for individuals’ reliance on benefits with the individual herself. There is also evidence that political agreement on welfare reform is contributing to a broader moral consensus on the supposedly negative characteristics of both ‘welfare’ and those who rely on it for all or most of their income.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: welfare reform, citizenship, conditionality, welfare-to-work
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law (Leeds) > School of Sociology and Social Policy (Leeds)
Depositing User: Dr Ruth Patrick
Date Deposited: 11 Nov 2015 09:53
Last Modified: 19 Jan 2016 11:42
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/10737

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