Welfare reform in the late 20th and early 21st centuries has been characterised by an increase in the conditions applied to long-term claimants of sickness benefits. While the intensity of these conditions has increased recently, conditions attached to claims for sickness benefits can be found in the discourse of policy makers and the
unwritten practices of decision makers since the beginnings of the welfare state. This project will consider how concepts of (in)capacity for work have been constructed over the 20th century, the formal and unwritten conditions attached to claims and the extent to which these conditions been gendered.
Recent welfare reforms have led to intense media interest in benefits for people with health problems, focussing on who should qualify, how they should be assessed and what happens to people who are refused benefit. A key feature of these reforms has been the search for objective medical evidence, resulting in the controversial ATOS medical tests and downplaying the role of patients’ GPs. These ideas are not new and attempts to question evidence of illness can be found in the infant welfare state of the early twentieth century.
My research (funded by the Leverhulme Trust) looks at how ‘incapacity for work’ was defined across the 20th century, starting with the UK’s first national insurance scheme in 1911. Using previously unresearched archive material relating to appeals against refusals of benefit, my research looks at who made the decisions, what evidence was used and how decisions reflected existing ideas about men and women in the workplace.