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ESRC Collaborative Studentship Investigating The Impact of Welfare Reform

Overview

This ESRC-Funded Collaborative PhD is investigating the human rights and equality impacts of welfare reform, public spending cuts and cost of living increases on vulnerable groups and individuals in Coventry.

The project is a collaboration between the Centre for Human Rights in Practice in the School of Law at the University of Warwick and Coventry City Council. The phd student is Wendy Eades and the academic supervisor is Dr. James Harrison.

Background

There is significant research which demonstrates how welfare reform, cuts to public services and increases in costs of living are likely to have the greatest impact on the poorest and most vulnerable groups. For instance:

  • Research from Sheffield Hallam University has mapped the impact of welfare reform and how it is hitting the poorest places hardest.[1]
  • Research from the Institute of Fiscal Studies has demonstrated how cuts to benefits and changes to tax will have the greatest impact on the poorest and most disadvantaged.[2]
  • The Fawcett Society and Women’s Budget Group have shown how poor women in particular will be badly hit by cuts to public services and welfare benefits.[3]
  • Disability Alliance has shown how spending cuts announced by the Coalition Government are likely to significantly increase the number of disabled people living in poverty.[4]

At the same time, central government policymakers have suggested that a number of the welfare benefit reforms will, for instance, reduce welfare dependency and poverty and lead to more individuals seeking and obtaining (better paid work). [5] Researchers are increasingly examining what the differentiated impacts (both positive and negative) of particular welfare reforms are on particular groups.[6]

There is a strong need for research which examines the actual impact of these cuts and reforms, particularly on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, and what is happening to their ‘lived experience’ in order to better inform these polarized debates. This Collaborative PhD will contribute to such research efforts.

The PhD will build upon the expertise developed by the Centre for Human Rights in Practice in research which uses the norms and standards of human rights and equality law in order to analysis the impacts of policies and practices – click here for the work of the Centre which particularly focuses on the issue of the public spending cuts.

Particularly relevant to the current project is the work of the Centre on the human rights and equality impacts of the public spending cuts on women in Coventry. The reports of this project are available here.

The Subject of the PhD Research

The research will involve studying the individuals and families who are being affected by a range of welfare reforms and other spending cuts, and whose underlying situation (because of poverty, disability etc.) means that they will be particularly likely to be vulnerable to significant effects as a result of those reforms/cuts and any increases in cost of living. The research will explore the possibilities of welfare reform having both positive and negative impacts on the groups and individuals studied.

This PhD will therefore involve mixed methods (qualitative and quantitative) research into the impact of the public spending cuts and welfare reform on vulnerable groups and individuals in Coventry. By using the extensive quantitative data which Coventry City Council has collected in relation to families and individuals who are impacted by multiple aspects of the welfare reform agenda (e.g. the welfare benefits cap, the ‘bedroom tax’ etc.) the researcher will develop a ‘vulnerability index’ by which to identify particular individuals and families who appear to be particularly likely to be significantly impacted by reforms, cuts and any increased living costs and whose underlying situation (because of poverty, disability etc.) means that they would be particularly likely to be vulnerable to significant effects as a result of those reforms/cuts. These individuals and families will also be selected on the basis of their representativeness in relation to a range of other groups and individuals in Coventry.

The research project will then utilise a range of qualitative research methods to generate rich, detailed, textured data about individuals/families and their lived experience in order to understand the holistic impacts of the cuts and changes on their lives.

Impact of the Research

At the local level, this research will provide insights about the extent to which different groups of people affected by welfare reforms are coping and where there are opportunities for local organisations to intervene to maximise individual resilience and mitigate the risk of increasing dependence upon local services.

At a national level the research is expected to provide robust empirical evidence of the actual impact of cuts and reforms, particularly on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, in order to better inform existing debates.

It is expected that the successful candidate will therefore directly engage with policymakers at the local level, and report on findings of the research as it is progressing. Coventry City Council and the Centre for Human Rights in Practice will also facilitate engagement with national networks in order to more widely disseminate the research findings and identify key lessons from research being undertaken elsewhere.

References

[1] Beatty and Fothergill Hitting the Poorest Hardest: The Local and National Impact of Welfare Reform (Sheffield Hallam University, 2013) http://www.shu.ac.uk/mediacentre/first-evidence-overall-impact-welfare-reform-across-britain

[2] E.g. James Browne and Peter Levell, The distributional effect of tax and benefit reforms to be introduced between June 2010 and April 2014: a revised assessment, (Institute of Fiscal Studies, 2010) available at www.ifs.org.

[3] E.g. UK Women’s Budget Group, The Impact on Women of the Budget 2011, (April 2011) available at www.wbg.org.uk.

[4] E.g. Disability Alliance, Emergency Budget Summary, (30 November 2010), available at www.disabilityalliance.org.

[5] See e.g. Department of Work and Pensions ‘Simplifying the welfare system and making sure work pays’ at https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/simplifying-the-welfare-system-and-making-sure-work-pays

[6] See e.g. Donald Hirsch and Yvette Hartfree, Does Universal Credit enable households to reach a minimum income standard? (2013, Joseph Rowntree Foundation) available at http://www.jrf.org.uk/publications/universal-credit-mi s