Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

Sociology and Social Policy

Mind the gap: representations and lived realities of 'welfare' and welfare reform

02 June 2015 | Peter Edwards

At the start of June, an event was held in central Leeds to explore the gap between the dominant narratives on ‘welfare’ and those who rely on it for all, or most, of their income, and lived realities.

The event was attended by local policy makers and representatives from advice charities, colleges and the local authority, and was chaired by Patrick Butler, Social Policy Editor of The Guardian.  Those attending first heard from some of the Dole Animators, a group of claimants who made a film in 2013 to disseminate their experiences of welfare reform.  The film, which builds on research by Ruth Patrick challenges the idea of benefits as a lifestyle choice and shows just what ‘getting by’ on benefits during times of welfare reform can entail. 

At the event, the Dole Animators shared their own stories on benefits, as well as their experiences in the labour market, and enduring struggles with in-work poverty.  This tied in well with the presentation from Professor Tracy Shildrick, which highlighted and challenged the various ‘welfare myths’ that are so dominant in Britain today.  In particular, Tracy flagged up a lived reality of claimants with very strong and clear aspirations to enter paid work, and a strong dislike of their need to rely on out-of-work benefits.  These themes were also evident in the third presentation from Lisa Pickard, Chief Executive of the Leeds and Yorkshire Housing Association and one of the founders of the Real Life Reform research project.

Lisa shared the findings from the Real Life Reform research project, findings which chime with the lived experiences of the Dole Animators and Tracy Shildrick’s own research.  She flagged up Real Life Reform’s commitment to reporting from the front line of welfare reform, and continuing to chart and document the impact on those whose lives are directly affected by benefit changes.

In a wide ranging discussion, attendees picked up on the need to try and mount a decisive challenge to public opinion on ‘welfare’, as well as particular issues around the deep rooted stigma of benefits reliance, and the impact this can have.

To find out more about the event, just search for our hash tag on twitter #livedwelfarerealities

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