Incapacity-related benefit claiming: a battle for legitimacy?

  • Ruby Uisce Jordan

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


From the Poor Law, through to the present day, it is possible to track a persistent impetus to disincentivise financial subsistence for people out-of-work. However, the extension of this phenomenon to people unable to work due to sickness or disability is more contemporary. The increasing dominance of a neoliberal political economy has reframed the chronically ill and disabled as part of the “undeserving” poor within the social security system. This thesis sets out to explore how men, who experience mental illness and claim incapacity-related benefits negotiate the changing welfare system. It utilises the Free Association Narrative Interview method (Hollway and Jefferson, 2013) to examine the lives and experiences of seventeen men living in Liverpool, in the North of England. This study aims to understand the effect of such a shift on this group’s experiences and how they have come to reconcile their position in society against a backdrop characterised by increased surveillance and scrutiny. In doing so, it details how, despite the personal and societal challenges they face, a marginalised group resiliently continue to seek security, belonging and unity.

As the study findings show, navigating the increasingly conditional welfare state for the participant group, is a battle for recognition of legitimacy, and therefore ‘deservingness’. Engaging in this ‘battle’ risks causing trauma or re-traumatising vulnerable populations, such as those experiencing mental illness. Social connections provided a tool of resistance to help marginalised individuals to legitimise their own identity or to foster a new identity (i.e., from worker to volunteer). However, the detrimental impacts of welfare reforms have made the socially valuable contributions of the participants steadily more insecure. Findings indicate austerity-driven withdrawal of social provisions result in family and friends providing what support they can, and this falls much more heavily on women. Fundamentally, this research demonstrates the need for a better understanding of the lives of sick and disabled people, and to subsequently remould a fairer, more accessible welfare system.
Date of Award8 Oct 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Edge Hill University
SupervisorMARIAN PEACOCK (Director of Studies) & DANIEL SAGE (Supervisor)


  • welfare reform
  • incapacity benefits
  • mental health
  • men's mental health
  • lived experience
  • conditionality
  • psycho-social research
  • FANI method

Cite this