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Incapacitated? Exploring the health and illness narratives of Incapacity Benefit recipients

By ANN KAYLEIGH GARTHWAITE

Abstract

Previous research has focused upon health, illness and identity, but the experience of receiving welfare benefits has largely been omitted. This thesis attempts to address this deficit by exploring the relationship between long-term Incapacity Benefit (IB) receipt and stigma in areas of North East England. Employing qualitative methodology, 25 IB recipients participated in the study, alongside 18 key stakeholders who worked with IB recipients. The narratives presented in this study uncover lives that are fraught with ill health and disability on a daily basis, accompanied by a strong sense of stigma, shame and frustration. Further, not all long-term IB recipients are resigned to a life on benefits – many possess a deep-seated desire to return to the labour market, including engaging in permitted or voluntary work – a sentiment which directly refutes any ‘dependency culture’ rhetoric. Tying all of this together is the construction and reconstruction of identity for long-term IB recipients. Stigma and shame arose as a result of the widespread suspicion of sick and disabled people; suspicion that was replicated in the views of some of the stakeholders involved in this study. Disturbingly, this led to a further distinction between ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ amongst sickness benefits recipients themselves. Crucially, narratives were relayed against a backdrop of ongoing welfare reform which led to a dominant discourse of fear and insecurity for many participants who worried that their health would get worse, yet they could still be classified as ‘fit for work’. Fundamentally, this research calls for the need for a greater understanding of the lives of sick and disabled people, and an acceptance that being on sickness benefits is not the easy way out

Topics: Sickness benefits, stigma, welfare reform, narrative, rhetoric
Year: 2013
OAI identifier: oai:etheses.dur.ac.uk:6387
Provided by: Durham e-Theses

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