Excited to say that my first article in a top-ranked journal will be coming out next year. Abstract below.
The rights and responsibilities of sick and disabled benefit claimants in austerity Europe
Submitted paper for special issue of the Journal of Contemporary European Studies (Volume 22(2), June 2014): Social welfare and the ethics of austerity in Europe: justice, ideology and equality
Reform of welfare benefits for disabled people – often involving making continued eligibility for such payments conditional on preparing for and seeking employment – has hitherto rested on and been justified by an often explicit promise to increase commensurately the quality and quantity of specialist employed-related support. A trend – albeit an uneven one across different countries – towards a more intensive welfare regime for both welfare authorities (to provide better services – and for claimants to take them up) has been emerging across Europe over the past decade (OECD 2010).
A movement towards focusing welfare-to-work policy on specific non-employed groups like sick and disabled claimants of ‘passive’ incapacity benefits appears to been driven to some extent by the strength of the economy over the past decade and the resulting decreased salience of unemployment (Clegg 2010), with policy-makers instead turning their attention to those claimants not previously a target of policy but whose integration into the labour market was not only a much more realistic prospect than previously given the availability of employment opportunities but also a policy imperative a key step in achieving maximum employment, with important additional consequences for other social policy goals like community regeneration, reducing social exclusion and combating poverty. In Grover and Piggott’s terms “policy changes have been aimed at reconstructing the non-employed disabled people as an important part of the reserve army in a period when labour markets are tighter” (2005, p.705).
The current economic situation presents several challenges to this emerging trend. Firstly, the re-emergence of mass unemployment strikes at the heart of welfare-to-work strategies that have been motivated partly or mainly by the need to relieve tightness in the labour market, as has been the case in the UK, amongst other countries. At both the policy-making and delivery level, sick and disabled people seeking work could appear to be being de-prioritised for employment support given the perception of decreased employment prospects for claimants classified as having multiple employment barriers (Greve 2009). Secondly, given that the current crisis is not only one of low growth and high unemployment but also in most countries has become manifested as a debt crisis, the perceived need for fiscal consolidation is seeing out-of-work benefits and employment support services being reduced. Whilst benefit cuts for such claimants are being enacted in a number of countries (European Foundation Centre 2012), reduction or at least restructuring of their employment services has received much less attention. It should, however, be equally expected given that they are in most countries less well-entrenched than those for other groups and “the uncertainties inherent in interventions meant to change people’s behaviour” and services that are “themselves are expensive to develop, yet they may not improve participants’ prospects of finding employment” (Jewell 2007, p.27-28). Given that the conditionalisation of out-of-work benefits for sick and disabled people has been justified on improved access to employment services, simultaneous cuts to both would entail a shift in and require a reconsideration of the nature of welfare settlement between European welfare states and their sick and disabled out-of-work citizens.
Nested in a broader EU-27 overview, the paper will pursue a cross-national analysis of these developments in the UK and Denmark, looking at the way the crisis and subsequent austerity has altered the welfare settlement between welfare authorities and sick and disabled claimants. The two countries face similar policy challenges in terms of their large incapacity benefit rolls but the differing welfare-ideological and welfare-institutional contexts provides the opportunity to look at to what extent and why activation policy for non-employed groups becomes retracted in the face of economic downturn – a hugely under-researched topic in active labour market policy studies– and to explore the interaction between downturn/austerity and different welfare contexts.
This will based on the author’s own interviews with policymakers in both countries and secondary analysis of existing national accounts and labour market data.
Clegg, D. 2010. Labour market policy in the crisis: the UK in comparative perspective. Benefits, 18:1, p.5-17
European Foundation Centre. 2012. Assessing the impact of European governments’ austerity plans on the rights of people with disabilities. Research Report 10, October
Greve, B. 2009. The labour market situation of disabled people in Europea ncountries 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
Grover, C. & Piggott, L. 2005. Disabled people, the reserve army of labour and welfare reform, Disability and Society, 20:7, p.707–19.
Jewell, C. 2007. Agents of the Welfare State: How Caseworkers Respond to Need in the United States, Germany and Sweden. Basingstoke: Palgave Macmillan.
OECD. 2010. Sickness, Disability and Work – Breaking the Barriers: A synthesis offindings across OECD countries. Paris: OECD.