SPA Conference 2013

Along with Dr Ben Baumberg and Professor Robert Walker, I’ve been accepted to present some work on disability cuts at the SPA conference this year. Symposium outline and the abstract of my paper below.

logoShame, stigma and benefit cuts: a symposium

Coordinated by Ben Baumberg, University of Kent [Chair tbc]

This symposium looks at the interconnections between two prominent issues surrounding the benefits system: austerity and stigma/shame. The economic downturn has led to cuts to benefits (both rates of payment and entitlements) across Europe. Benefits have, however, been cut to different levels and in different ways in different countries – and with relatively little research highlighting the way that particular groups have been differentially affected.

A related issue has been around the intensifying distinction between the ‘deserving poor’ & ‘undeserving poor’, which has accompanied these cuts and has variously been suggested to both enable and result from these cuts. The three papers in this symposium build on one another to track austerity and benefit cuts, the link of these to deservingness perceptions, and the impacts that shame and stigma have on individuals – with the papers connecting UK debates.

The first paper by Dan Heap looks specifically at how disabled people have fared within recent benefit cuts in Europe. He begins by explaining the impact of benefits cuts on disabled people in Britain – and like others, suggests that disabled people have seen particular cuts, as seen in, for example, the formation of an advocacy coalition called ‘The Hardest Hit’. But it is unclear how far this reflects a pattern that can be seen across Europe. Using new analysis of existing data sources and a new survey of relevant stakeholders, Heap shows how far benefit cuts have been particularly targeted on disabled people.

The second paper by Baumberg, Bell and Gaffney explores the role of stigma in disability benefit cuts in Britain. Based on a wide-ranging new study (including a new commissioned Ipsos MORI survey, a media analysis of all newspaper articles on benefits since 1995, focus groups & secondary data analysis), they suggest that most people do not think there is anything intrinsically shameful about claiming disability benefits. However, people have strong concerns about the deservingness of such claimants – which given the invisibility of most disabilities, is likely to be influenced by a combination of everyday interactions and media framings. Baumberg et al conclude by considering the role of deservingness perceptions in disability benefit cuts in the UK.

The final paper by Walker et al explores shame and poverty internationally. To consider whether the shame of poverty is culturally universal, they present the results of an ambitious comparative qualitative study across six highly diverse countries and settings, from the UK to rural Uganda to urban China. They show that such shame can indeed be found in all locations – but there are also differences between countries, particularly in the extent to which a deserving vs. undeserving discourse emerges. Using the experience of people in poverty in multiple countries, Walker et al also show what the impacts of shame can be on the individual – and call on us to work to minimise it

Mapping Disability Welfare Cuts in Europe Dan Heap; Edinburgh University School of Social and Political Sciences

One of the most prominent features of the current UK government’s welfare reforms and its broader platform of fiscal consolidation is the extent to which it impacts upon vulnerable people, in particular disabled people. As well as continuing the previous government’s movement of claimants from Incapacity Benefit to lower rate and more conditional benefits, the replacement of the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with Personal Independent Payments, the closure of Remploy factories and wider welfare reforms like the 1% benefit cap and housing benefit mean that disabled people are faced with a significant deterioration in their standard of living. However, while it is increasingly clear that such changes are going to have a serious impact upon disabled people in the UK, it is not yet clear whether Britain is outlier relative to the rest of Europe or representative of a broad trend of disabled people ending up disproportionately worse off as governments seek more efficient welfare states.

We do not yet know how widespread disability welfare cuts are across the continent; which areas of welfare are most threatened; through what mechanisms governments are reducing disability welfare and to what extent the cuts disabled people are facing result from post-crisis fiscal consolidation or from the ongoing retrenchment of European welfare states. Through an analysis of SOCX, MISSOC and other datasets and a survey of relevant stakeholders, the project is seeking to gather data on cuts to work-related and non-work-related cash benefits for disabled people and employment, care, rehabilitation and related services for disabled people across the EU 27 in the hope of producing a better cross-nationally comparative understanding of disability welfare change.

A typology of countries will be produced on the basis of the extent and types of cuts in each area, which three individual country stories being told in greater detail.

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