Slides – ‘Mental Welfare: A critical discourse analysis of the construction of mental health in health & welfare policy’

Here are my slides from a presentation on how mental health is constructed within the discourse of the UK and Scottish governments. This presentation was part of the Urban Studies’ Monday Workshops at the University of Glasgow.


Abstract:

Long seen as the ‘Cinderella’ service of the NHS, mental health has received renewed policy focus in recent years. Both the UK and Scottish Governments have committed to achieving ‘parity of esteem’ between physical and mental health. There is further agreement in the policy proposals put forth in their mental health strategies, promising a public health and life course approach with increased investment and access to mental health services. In contrast, this research undertakes a critical discourse analysis that places the mental health strategies within the broader policy corpus of the UK and Scottish Governments, revealing a radical divergence beyond these similarities in how they define and configure the relationships between mental health, welfare, and employment. This divergence arises from the opposing definitions of social justice by the respective governments, evident across three key areas: the relationship between mental health and inequalities, the role welfare has in mediating mental health, and under what circumstances work can promote good mental health.

New publication – ‘The Impact of Conditionality on the Welfare Rights of EU Migrants in the UK’

A co-authored article with colleagues from the Welfare Conditionality project has been published in Policy & Politics. The article is open access so can be read without a university account.

Abstract:

This paper highlights and explores how conditionality operating at three levels (the EU supranational level, the UK national level and in migrants’ mundane ‘street level’ encounters with social security administrators), come together to restrict and have a negative impact on the social rights of EU migrants living in the UK. Presenting analysis of new data generated in repeat qualitative interviews with 49 EU migrants resident in the UK, the paper makes an original contribution to understanding how the conditionality inherent in macro level EU and UK policy has seriously detrimental effects on the everyday lives of individual EU migrants.

Further details about the Welfare Conditionality project, including the final findings papers, can be found on the project website.

Upcoming workshop presentation – ‘Mental Welfare’

On Monday 25th March 2019, I will be presenting some initial findings from the ‘Welfare, Employment, and Mental Health’ research project. The presentation is part of the Urban Studies’ Monday Workshops at the University of Glasgow.

Abstract:

Long seen as the ‘Cinderella’ service of the NHS, mental health has received renewed policy focus in recent years. Both the UK and Scottish Governments have committed to achieving ‘parity of esteem’ between physical and mental health. There is further agreement in the policy proposals put forth in their mental health strategies, promising a public health and life course approach with increased investment and access to mental health services. In contrast, this research undertakes a critical discourse analysis that places the mental health strategies within the broader policy corpus of the UK and Scottish Governments, revealing a radical divergence beyond these similarities in how they define and configure the relationships between mental health, welfare, and employment. This divergence arises from the opposing definitions of social justice by the respective governments, evident across three key areas: the relationship between mental health and inequalities, the role welfare has in mediating mental health, and under what circumstances work can promote good mental health.

Welfare Conditionality final research findings

The final findings papers for the Welfare Conditionality project, that I was a Researcher and NVivo Lead on, have been published today. As covered in The Guardian, Benefit sanctions [were] found to be ineffective and damaging.

From the Guardian article:

Benefit sanctions are ineffective at getting jobless people into work and are more likely to reduce those affected to poverty, ill-health or even survival crime, the UK’s most extensive study of welfare conditionality has found.

The five-year exercise tracking hundreds of claimants concludes that the controversial policy of docking benefits as punishment for alleged failures to comply with jobcentre rules has been little short of disastrous.

“Benefit sanctions do little to enhance people’s motivation to prepare for, seek or enter paid work. They routinely trigger profoundly negative personal, financial, health and behavioural outcomes,” the study concludes.

The Canary has also covered the findings reporting that – The latest news on the DWP has left its reputation in tatters.

From the article:

A groundbreaking study, conducted over five years, has left the reputation and operating practices of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in tatters. Specifically, the report’s authors heap criticism on one part of the department’s operations: the benefit sanctions regime. But a standout point from the report was that the DWP should “cease” applying sanctions to disabled people.

[…] The Welfare Conditionality project (2013-2018) was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. ‘Conditionality’ is the idea that people who receive benefits should have to meet certain requirements, such as applying for jobs, or lose their payments. A ‘sanction’, in this context, means the withdrawal of benefits, normally for a fixed period.

As well as the Overview paper there are separate briefings for the nine policy areas covered in the research

Failure to Justify: The absence of a ‘natural situation’ with benefit sanction decisions

Copy of the slides for my presentation on Tuesday 10th April 2018 at the British Sociological Association’s Annual Conference.

Abstract:

UK welfare reform has seen sanctions become a crucial form of punishment for claimants who are judged to have failed to meet behavioural conditions. Drawing on data from an ESRC-funded study (2013-2018) of the efficacy and ethicality of welfare conditionality in England and Scotland (see: www.welfareconditioanality.ac.uk), the paper explores the ethical arguments made by 207 participants who reported experiencing one or more sanctions. These arguments are to be explored through Boltanski and Thévenot’s (2006) theory of justification, in detailing how participants justified / critiqued sanction decisions through reference to different models of justice. In making their argument, participants often pointed to sanction decisions not being a ‘natural situation’, one which has a clear flow to events in accordance with general principles. Participants reported being unaware their actions were sanctionable, felt that deferring sanction decisions to a ‘decision maker’ disempowered them, and that there was a haste to sanction without adequate opportunity to provide explanation. More broadly, the sanctions system was critiqued for having an industrial model of service provision, where claimants are ‘just a number’, and there being a lack of a civic ethos throughout the system. This pervasive sense of injustice, despite the acceptance amongst a significant number of participants of the general principles of conditionality, brings into question whether the current sanctions system is compatible with the criteria required to be a justifiable order. The paper will therefore also reconsider the debates between pragmatic and critical sociologies, particularly the importance of symbolic forms of domination and violence.