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A Grounded Theory Study of Disability Benefit Changes

Author: Jessica Saffer

The harm caused to disabled people by welfare reform

Dr Jessica Saffer, in conjunction with the University of Hertfordshire and the Centre for Welfare Reform, has conducted research into the impact of changes to disability benefits on individuals’ wellbeing and identity. She argues that the Government’s recent decision to review all £1.6m claims to the PIP system is too little, too late; the damage has already been done and we need to do more to support disabled people to afford a basic standard of living and to be full citizens within our society.

Dr Saffer can use her research findings to make the following points:

  • Disabled people experience the benefits system as powerfully dehumanising. The whole process of applying for benefits is detrimental to both mental and physical health, and can lead to suicidal thinking.
  • Disability benefit claimants feel that they live in a judgemental society, where they are perceived as ‘scroungers’ and where they face regular discrimination from others. These pervasive discourses have a huge negative impact on their mental and physical health, wellbeing and their sense of self.
  • This detrimental impact on quality of life can arguably potentially increase the likelihood of reliance on benefits and prolong the distress of living as a benefit claimant.

The system needs to be changed to prevent its detrimental impact in the following ways:

  • Assessors trained in how specific disabilities affect people
  • More weight given to medical experts’ opinions
  • Have only one assessment for disability-related benefits
  • A needs-based assessment rather than points-based approach
  • A review of the decision-making process for those who receive a home assessment
  • Shorter forms with clearer wording, available in various formats
  • One accessible source for benefits related information

Additionally, many of the participants in this research felt that the recent changes in benefits, as well as the stigma surrounding disabled benefit claimants, are politically and ideologically driven, with the aim of cutting back significantly on welfare spending. Dr Saffer argues that politicians and journalists should be challenged about playing politics with the lives of people with disabilities. Her research suggests that space should be created for personal accounts to be placed in the public domain, so that counter-narratives become available to a wider audience and the day-to-day human suffering of people living with disabilities, as caused by the cuts to benefits and the inaccessible and inhumane benefits application processes, become more widely known.

Jessica is happy to discuss her work further and invites any collaborations or questions, please contact her by Email

Read and download the research report (pdf) in your browser here.


The publisher is University of Hertfordshire.

A Grounded Theory Study of Disability Benefit Changes © Jessica Saffer 2017.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.

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