Living with the Welfare Reforms
Aims of this Scoping Study:
Universal Credit is overhauling the benefit and welfare services. Rolled out in 2013 in key areas, the aim is that the majority of the UK will be using the new system by 2015-16. It is a policy that is widely heralded by the national media and local councils as inherently problematic, not only for how it understands literacy, empowerment, independence, barriers; but also because of the fundamental changes it will engender around domestic power relations, class, gender, ethnic and geographic identity, invisible and visible populations, responsibility, and everyday routines (to name a few). Through an investigation of the lived realities of the welfare changes particularly in relation to homelessness, the everyday and housing, which are contextualised through interdisciplinary and public- third sector collaborations; our project will seek to interrogate the assumptions and lived realities that lie at the heart of these policy changes.
- Gómez Cruz, E. & Thornham, H. 2015, ‘[In]Visible and un/fixed Communities: Living with the Welfare Reforms. Final Report.‘ Working Papers of the Community and Cultures Network+ Vol. 6 Oct. 2015
- Thornham, H. et al. 2014, ‘[In]Visible and un/fixed Communities: Living with the Welfare Reforms. Interim Report.’ Working Papers of the Community and Cultures Network+ Vol. 4 Oct. 2014
- Thornham, H. You can’t write a CV on a smartphone – digital literacy is no help to unemployed youth. The Conversation. August 2014.
This scoping study, being undertaken at the University of Leeds will comprise three strands:
The project aims to understand the reforms through a lens that takes in identity, everyday life and dominant media representations of young people living in social housing. We will explore these ideas in a series of workshops and creative sessions run by the Leeds community arts organisation, Space2. The Space2 workshops will enable the young people participating to create their own documentaries. This project aims to fulfill our academic concerns whilst also actively contributing to Space2’s goals to: build confidence; develop creative thinking and responsibility; and encourage commitment and investment.
The work with Space2 will be supplemented by a broader mapping exercise, through interviews and focus groups with key actors and communities in the third, private and public sectors. To date we have identified a number of organisations and individuals we will work with, including homeless shelters, food banks and faith-based organisations, local councils and the NHS.
The Space2 sessions draw on and are shaped by an ongoing ethnographic project with Studio12 that seeks to understand issues of ‘authorship’, ‘empowerment’ and ethnicity for individuals around Leeds within the context of the Welfare reforms. Space2 and Studio12 are third sector organisations that work with disenfranchised populations around Leeds: the nearly homeless, NEET individuals, immigrants, and those whose local communities are seen to be increasingly precarious as a result of the reforms. These projects are co-designed with the organisations and the groups we engage.
- What are the reforms, and more importantly the practices and perceptions that accompany them, creating as valuable for the digital, the visible, process, practice and politics?
- Which communities are becoming visible and invisible through these reforms, and what are the implications of this?
- What do the connections between the organisations and communities we engage reveal as politically, socially and economically important for the future?
- What are the impacts of the reforms on visible and invisible populations? Power? Efficacy? Citizenship? Gender? Domestic power relations? Expertise?
- What is the future role of voluntary and church organisations for social, cultural and welfare related activities? What are the implications of this for politics, party politics, communities, locations, the connections between increasingly atomised organisations?
- Can the digital offer solutions or possibilities alongside its centrality to the processes and practices of reform?
- How do the predictions of change from institutions and organisations map onto lived experience and what gaps emerge through this comparison that need addressing?