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Title: Social (in) security : exploring welfare reform, poverty and health in North East England
Authors: Halligan, Joel
Issue Date: 2020
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: This thesis explores the impacts of ‘welfare reform’ on working-age people living in a disadvantaged part of Newcastle upon Tyne, North East England, understanding how these impacts relate to health and wellbeing. A qualitative longitudinal methodology was used, supplemented by participant-driven photo elicitation. Nineteen people took part in up to three interviews between July 2016 and April 2018. This thesis argues that the concept of ‘insecurity’ is central to understanding how ‘welfare reform’ is experienced at the micro level. Standing in contrast to the rhetoric of benefits providing a ‘safety net’, a central plank of ‘welfare reform’ policies has instead been to erode the security of benefits under the guise of ending supposed benefit dependency and moving people back towards the labour market. This research demonstrates that such positive outcomes are unlikely to arise, for many reasons, and that these policies have been implemented at the detriment of benefit recipients’ health and wellbeing. Participants’ experiences were characterised by a pervasive sense of insecurity that flowed not only from the poverty that benefits and low-paid work engendered, but also from the threat of sanction for unemployment benefits, the spectre of reassessments for sickness benefits, and pressure to move home because of the ‘Bedroom Tax’. Participants attempted to ‘manage’ their security through careful handling of their interactions with the state, prudent budget control and borrowing, though none of these strategies were straightforward or unproblematic. Those able to work expressed desires to do so, yet low skill levels, structural barriers, ineffective support from the Jobcentre and minimal financial gains from moving into work often meant that benefits offered greater security in the short-term. Cuts to benefit levels, as a result of the four-year freeze (2016-2020) in benefit uprating, the ‘Bedroom Tax’ and the Benefit Cap, worsened financial security leading to debt, food insecurity, and social exclusion. Cumulatively, the insecurity that participants experienced was embodied through stress, worry and deteriorating mental health.
Description: PhD Thesis
Appears in Collections:Institute of Health and Society

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