Abstract: The institutionalisation of welfare-to-work regimes for sick and disabled claimants and the Great Recession: Interdisciplinary and policy relevance

The abstract of a paper discussing the interdisciplinary relevance of my research which I’ll be presenting at the Making Connections conference at Queen Margaret’s University, Edinburgh; 24th November.


The institutionalisation of welfare-to-work regimes for sick and disabled claimants and the Great Recession: Interdisciplinary and policy relevance

Dan Heap, University of Edinburgh

Draft. Please do not cite.

While increasing academic interest has followed increased enthusiasm from policymakers to make the payment of benefits to sick or disabled people conditional on the exhibition of some form of ‘work-focused’ behaviour (Grover & Piggott 2010, Patrick et al 2011), little is known beyond individual legislative changes to benefits and back-to-work programmes. There is much more to be said about what types of regimes these individual changes have resulted in and how they fare in difficult economic times when those with health conditions or disabilities find it even more difficult than usual to attain employment (Greve 2009) and when there is pressure to use increasingly stretched resources to provide activation services for those recently unemployed rather than those claimants considered to be further from the labour market.

Social policy scholars have much to learn from this kind of study – given the extensive labour market barriers they face, sick and disabled claimants are a critical case in the spread of the active principle outwards from the unemployed to other non-employed groups – but it will also be insightful from other perspectives within social science. Researchers in disability and health studies will find value in the project’s examination of how a claimant’s classification as sick or disabled influences what kinds of employment support they are provided with relative to other benefit groups, particularly in times of resource scarcity.  The research can also be considered to be part of a burgeoning trend in political science, political economy and social policy concerned with the impact of external economic shocks on public policy agendas (Clegg 2010, Chung & Thewissen 2011, Farnsworth & Irving 2011) with a key question being what happens to a policy approach toward such claimants that is conceived in and driven by a period of prosperity but implemented predominately in the context of macroeconomic turbulence. Policymakers seeking to improve their active labour market policies could take much from a study that looks at what factors facilitate and threaten the institutionalisation of a work-focus for benefit claimants.

Chung, H. & Thewissen, S., 2011. Falling Back on Old Habits? A Comparison of the Social and Unemployment Crisis Reactive Policy Strategies in Germany, the UK and Sweden. Social Policy & Administration, 45, pp.354-370.

Clegg, D., 2010. Labour market policy in the crisis: the UK in comparative perspective. Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, 18, pp.5-17.

Greve, B., 2009. The labour market situation of disabled people in European countries and implementation of employment policies: a summary of evidence from country reports and research studies. Report prepared for the Academic Network of European Disability experts (ANED). April 2009

Farnsworth, K., 2011. Social policy in challenging times: economic crisis and welfare systems, Bristol: Policy.
Patrick, R. et al., 2011. The wrong prescription: disabled people and welfare conditionality. Policy & Politics, 39, pp.275-291.


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