More than two million people of working age in the UK are out of work and claiming disability/incapacity benefits due to mental or physical health conditions. Recent policy responses have taken the form of restricted access to the main benefit, Employment and Support Allowance; and increased compulsory ‘work-related activity’ for claimants. However, current policy arguably fails to reflect the evidence that people on long-term disability benefits face complex barriers to work. Claimants may struggle to manage presenting health conditions; there is widespread presence of mental health problems; many report gaps in skills and work experience; and claiming is concentrated in depressed labour markets that have fewer job opportunities.
There is a need for inter-disciplinary, cross-national research on the nature of the ‘disability benefits problem’ and the efficacy of current and potential policy solutions. This project will build networks among academics who are researching the distinctive, yet inter-related, elements of the problems faced by disability claimants. Specifically, the project will bring together experts with complementary interests in: clinical/occupational psychology; welfare reform and employment policy; sociology of health and disability; public management; economics; and labour market geography. The project aims to:
• establish an inter-disciplinary network of UK academics conducting complementary research in the fields identified above;
• develop a) joint-working/collaborative funding bids and b) joint publication ideas through a two-day seminar/inception event where experts from these different disciplines can share research;
• extend the network to international colleagues and hold a further two-day seminar comparing evidence and policy across welfare states, with a view to developing further opportunities for collaboration and publication.
This collaborative effort will provide insights on: how psychological/health conditions and other barriers combine to limit opportunities for benefit claimants; the appropriateness of current policy solutions; and lessons that can be drawn from comparative research across welfare states.