Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

Sociology and Social Policy

Research Student: Ruth Patrick

Irresponsible Citizens? The Lived Experiences of Welfare Reform

Following David Cameron’s election as Prime Minister, a broad programme of welfare reform has been announced which includes changes to welfare-to-work schemes, cuts in the real value of many benefits and increasing conditions attached to the receipt of welfare. In the Government and much of the media’s discussions of these reforms, welfare claimants are characterised as passive dependents who require tough measures to help them off welfare and back to work.

This research explores welfare claimants own perspectives of welfare reform and consider how far the Government’s characterisation of welfare claimants fits with the lived reality. It also examines whether the changes in benefit regimes corresponds with meaningful changes in the lives of claimants and how any such changes are perceived by welfare claimants themselves.

The main research questions are:

  • How is welfare reform experienced by those reliant on social welfare?
  • How do welfare claimants view processes of welfare reform?
  • How far do welfare claimants experience meaningful change in their circumstances and opportunities as a result of reforms to welfare?
  • How far do the policy objectives of welfare reform fit with people’s own aspirations and objectives?

The research design is qualitative longitudinal, with a small sample of welfare claimants interviewed three times over an eighteen month time period.

This research provides an invaluable opportunity to explore the lived experience of welfare claimants themselves during times of welfare reform and the further residualisation of social welfare. By forefronting the experiences, perceptions and attitudes of welfare claimants, the research is motivated by an aspiration to give voice to those directly affected by the reforms, whose viewpoints are too often absent in debates dominated by politicians and media commentators.


Before doing a degree in Social Policy at the University of Leeds as a Mature Student, I worked in London in think tanks (Fabian Society & ippr).  I was involved in organising conferences and events, and conducting research on issues including Inheritance Tax reform and housing affordability.

Between my undergraduate degree and my PhD, I worked for Shelter providing housing advice to offenders in prison.

What motivated me to undertake PhD study?

I enjoyed my undergraduate degree but felt that I had only touched the surface, and was excited by opportunity to study more and at a greater depth.

What makes me passionate about my subject?

The opportunity to speak to people about their own experiences of government policies.

What are my plans once I have completed my PhD?

Hopefully find a job!

© Copyright Leeds 2016