I’m very pleased to say my second (or third, depending on the order they get published) publication will be a chapter in a very exciting forthcoming book on work, welfare and disability: Work, welfare and disabled people: UK and international perspectives, edited by Chris Grover and Linda Piggott, of Lancaster University and published by Policy Press, the world’s leading publisher of public policy texts. It’s a much needed critical look at the relationship between paid work, social security and disability, very much in the same vein as the excellent Working Futures? by Barnes and Roulstone, but that’s now to some extent been surpassed by policy developments and lacks the cross-nationally comparative perspective that Work, welfare and disabled people promises to have. I’m pleased to be writing alongside such nationally and internationally-renowned experts as Bruce Stafford, Claire Bambra, Sheila Riddell, Alan Roulstone and Karen Soldatic.
My chapter is drawn from PhD research, looking at access to employment support in the UK, with some comparison with Denmark and Germany. The summary of both the chapter and the book as a whole can be found below.
Many countries over the past three decades have taken steps to increase the number of disabled people in paid work and, therefore, to reduce the number who might be classed as workless. Such policy developments have been seen by governments and extra-national organisations (such as the OECD and the IMF) as being desirable for disabled people for a number of reasons linked to economic, paternalistic and social notions of the good.
This view of paid work, as being the means for disabled people to secure ‘independence’ and economic and social inclusion is, in many ways, supported by the Disabled People’s Movement’s concerns with self-determination (although the work of Paul Abberley was an exception). However, it has become apparent that at various levels – the ideological, philosophical and practical – the idea that disabled people should be, depending upon ones position, ‘encouraged’ or ‘forced’ into paid work is problematic. It is upon these issues that the proposed book will focus through drawing upon UK and international experiences of recent welfare policies for disabled people and their relationship to paid work. The book will be framed by the social model of disability (focusing upon the social relations of disability, rather than individual medical models) and will essentially focus upon four themes:
- Changing constructions of disability, desert and welfare
- The centrality to social policies for disabled people of a work-first approach
- Assistance and access to paid work
- Alternatives to, and validated lives beyond, paid work
The proposed book is very topical because in recent years many governments have changed their policy frameworks to increase the emphasis upon the importance of paid work for disabled people. In many countries this changing emphasis has led to the erosion of the financial support for many workless disabled people, with their benefit receipt being more closely framed by work-related conditionality, and the stigmatisation of many disabled people through the evocation of hostile emotional reactions via policy and popular discourses that construct disabled people as ‘workshy’ and ‘scroungers’.
The most important points of the book are its:
- critical engagement with policy and popular discourse that essentially construct paid work as being something that disabled people should to aspire to and, if they do not, that they should be made to by state policies. Such discussion is currently missing in the academic literature that focuses upon disabled people and employment, and which primarily accepts the argument that paid work is desirable in itself and is particularly desirable for disabled people.
- interdisciplinarity. It brings together a variety of intellectual and theoretical perspectives – for example, critical policy analyses, disability studies, philosophy, social administration and sociology – to examine relationships between disability, paid work and welfare policy.
- international focus. It has contributions on debates about disabled people, work and welfare from countries denoted by different welfare regimes and traditions. Although there is a focus upon the UK, there are also contributions discussing the themes of book from other Anglophone countries, from Scandinavia and from mainland Europe.
- critical engagement with possible alternatives to paid work, and their intellectual bases, and how these relate to disabled people.
- focus upon disabled people’s experiences of changing welfare practices through qualitative research.
The book has several aims:
- To critically engage with dominant discourses and policy developments for disabled people that are focused upon getting them into paid work. It will, therefore, critically challenge policy developments and the ideas that inform them.
- To disseminate work that challenges not only the policy mainstream, but also some of the views of the Disabled People’s Movement on the importance of paid employment to tackling the disablism that disabled people face.
- To disseminate views that critically question the institution of paid employment through sociological and philosophical approaches that suggest alternatives are available.
- To develop the knowledge of social policy approaches taken in several countries to address worklessness among disabled people, the ideas that inform these and the impacts of the policies.
Chapter summary: Disabled people, welfare reform and the balance of rights and responsibilities
The increased conditionality that has been the hallmark of recent reform of benefits for disabled people in the UK has been justified – often explicitly – on the grounds that those disabled people required to seek work will be given appropriate support. Through a series of qualitative interviews with policymakers; employment service providers and representatives of the Disabled People’s Movement, this chapter seeks to examine the extent to which this has been the case. It finds that what began as an apparently genuine attempt to extend support soon faded. This was because of changed labour market policy priorities as a result of the economic crisis; the high-profile failure of the Pathways to Work programme, and the new Work Programme, which makes limited formal recognition of the additional labour market barriers disabled people face and which does little to stop disabled people from being excluded by service providers, the majority of which do not provide specialist services to support disabled people. Though initially planned to be a major part of the programme, referrals of disabled claimants to the Work Programme are running far below what was originally expected – around 5 per cent of the total number of referrals, as opposed to the 25 per cent projected.
At the same time, welfare reform has continued apace, with 900,000 people with disabilities or health conditions experiencing some additional conditionality and 600,000 being removed entirely from the benefits system and thus the scope of employment services. In contrast to other countries like Denmark and Germany – where benefits reform has been bound up closely with and accepted by social partners in exchange for improved support – disabled people claiming working-age benefits in the UK have very few formal rights to employment services or to redress if excluded. In light of the developments, reform of disability benefits emerges as even more punitive than has been hitherto been appreciated.