'The language of shirkers and scroungers?' Talking about illness, disability and coalition welfare reform

Journal article citation:
Disability and Society, 26(3), May 2011, pp.369-372.
Taylor and Francis

The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government has highlighted the cost of those receiving sickness-related benefits and announced plans to reduce welfare spending including a reassessment of all Incapacity Benefit recipients. A recent White Paper has outlined a new Universal Credit, an integrated working age credit which will replace a range of benefits including the Employment Support Allowance for ill and disabled recipients. Sickness-related benefits and those who receive them are therefore currently in the spotlight. This article critically reflects upon the way people receiving sickness-related benefits such as Incapacity Benefit and Employment Support Allowance can be labelled, portrayed and discussed by the government, the media and elsewhere. It discusses the distinction made in this rhetoric between the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor. With the continued focus upon welfare reform, it is even more likely that people receiving sickness-related benefits will continue to be portrayed in pejorative terms. The article argues that, instead of viewing people receiving sickness-related benefits as relentlessly trying to avoid work, consideration should be given to why people are on such benefits in the first place.

Subject terms:
incapacity benefit, mass media, social welfare, universal credit, attitudes, benefits, disabilities, government policy;
United Kingdom
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