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'The language of shirkers and scroungers?' Talking about illness, disability and coalition welfare reform

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Following establishment of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, welfare benefits and those who receive them have become of increased significance, with the government and the media alike lamenting the amount of people receiving benefits and what could, and indeed should, be done about it. With a recent White Paper outlining a new Universal Credit, an integrated working age credit that will replace a range of benefits including the Employment Support Allowance for ill and disabled recipients, it means that once again sickness-related benefits are back in the spotlight. This piece critically reflects upon the way people receiving sickness-related benefits such as Incapacity Benefit and Employment Support Allowance can be labelled, portrayed and discussed within a wider rhetoric that encompasses governmental, public and media attitudes. Unfortunately, the impacts of such rhetoric could be counter-productive with regards to employer responses to ill and disabled individuals. Yet policy remains centred largely on the supply rather than the demand side of labour. As a consequence, policies that target and highlight the functional limitations of individuals with perceived impairments are prioritised and supported at the expense of those which draw attention to and seek to resolve the stark inequalities of the social organisation of work.
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Keywords: disability; illness; language; media; public opinion; sickness benefits; welfare reform

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Wolfson Research Institute, Department of Geography, Durham University, UK

Publication date: 01 May 2011

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