Tag Archives: welfare reform

Homo sacer, states of exception and zones of indistinction: An analysis of disabled people’s experience of welfare reform in the UK (paper, 2014)

Reeve, D. (2014) ‘Homo sacer, states of exception and zones of indistinction: An analysis of disabled people’s experience of welfare reform in the UK’, paper presented at 7th Biennial Disability Studies Conference, Lancaster University, 9-11 September.


This exploratory paper will utilise the liminal figure of homo sacer (Agamben, 1998) to consider the experiences of disabled people living at the sharp end of a major reform of the welfare system supporting those traditionally considered too ill to work. This is happening at a time of high unemployment and economic recession in the UK.

Two aspects of homo sacer will be discussed in this paper. Firstly it will be shown how disabled people can find themselves caught up in an ‘economic’ zone of indistinction, as a consequence of a state of exception caused by these neoliberal policies. For example, the changing of eligibility criteria for out-of-work benefits paid to disabled people has resulted in a group of disabled people who are now deemed to be fit-to-work rather than unfit-to-work. However existing barriers to paid work – whether related to the consequences of impairment or to employer attitudes – remain unchanged and so rates of employment remain low compared to non-disabled unemployed people.

Secondly, a key aspect of homo sacer is that (s)he can be killed with impunity, without the death being treated as homicide (Agamben, 1998). There have been a number of recent deaths and suicides of disabled people that have been attributed directly to benefits cuts or to the anxiety and stress caused by the work capability assessment process. The government refutes these claims and simply offers condolences to the family of the dead claimant. This ‘letting die’ of disabled people as a consequence of welfare reform could be seen as an example of the inherent structural violence associated with neoliberalism (Tyner, 2014)

This paper aims to use the figure of homo sacer to illustrate the contradictory and precarious positions that disabled people are often forced to adopt as a consequence of neoliberal welfare reform.

The arrival of the ‘brown envelope’: The embodied experience of welfare reform in the UK (paper with Karen Soldatic, 2012)

Reeve, D. and Soldatic, K. (2012) ‘The arrival of the ‘brown envelope’: The embodied experience of welfare reform in the UK’, paper presented at 6th Biennial Disability Studies Conference, Lancaster University, 11-13 September.


Within the UK, the restructuring of disability social security measures under the Cameron Government welfare to work agenda has received considerable attention within the mainstream media.  Frequently, we are exposed to a range of discourses and discursive practices that seek to morally, politically and socially justify the on-going withdrawal of disability social entitlements via the realm of disability benefits such as the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).  While there has been a growing body of work that has sought to identify the significant material and stigmatising effects of the Cameron Government’s disability welfare to work agenda, thus far, there have been few studies that have directly drawn upon the rich narratives of disabled women who have directly experienced the coercive administrative procedures of the government’s welfare to work agenda.

In this paper, we begin to fill this significant gap in the literature.  Our point of analysis seeks to understand disabled women’s emotionally embodied experience of receiving information from the administrative department responsible for notifying disabled ESA recipients of welfare assessments and other mandatory requirements such as job centre appointments that form part of these reforms.  We argue, that exploring disabled women’s embodied experience of the arrival of the brown envelope, the envelope containing welfare reform administrative requirements for ESA recipients, provides a critical window into understanding the nascent forms of psycho-social embodied disablism that emerges under such coercive disciplining regimes.  Further, through the use of narrative methodologies, we show that the disabling effects of such administrative processes not only affect the ‘emotional wellbeing’ of the individuals concerned, but have far greater consequences for the processing of their legitimate claims to disability social entitlements.

‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’: Welfare reform and the Work Capability Assessment (paper with Karen Soldatic, 2012)

Reeve, D. and Soldatic, K. (2012) ‘‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’: Welfare reform and the Work Capability Assessment’, paper presented at Theorizing Normalcy and the Mundane, 3rd International Conference, Chester University, 26-27 June.


Disabled people and their entitlement to social security benefits are now a central concern of neoliberal economic policy debates (OECD, 2009). As a consequence, across western (neo)liberal democracies, a redefinition of who is seen as ‘really disabled’ is taking place. The form that this takes varies with country; in the UK this has resulted in many disabled people who were formerly in receipt of Incapacity Benefit, being now declared as ‘fit to work’ under the successor Employment Support Allowance.

As the coalition government continue their plans to reform disability benefits under the auspices of a time of austerity, the Work Capability Assessment is a key tool to separate out disabled people into those deserving of support, those deemed fit to work and those in the intermediate work-related activity group. Drawing on interviews with disabled women talking about their experience of claiming ESA, this paper will discuss their experiences of attending a WCA medical. We will show how these women internalise governmental and media discourses about who is seen as disabled (and worthy of support) and the ways in which they navigate the complex, trap-laden setting of the WCA medical.

This paper will be presenting new ideas which are still under development by the two authors. One line of discussion will show how these narrative accounts illustrate the ways in which ESA and the associated WCA lead to economic zones of indistinction (Agamben, 1998). In these liminal spaces disabled people are no longer protected by the welfare state and instead find themselves at the mercy of prejudiced employers and part-time, insecure work opportunities. This paper will also discuss the impact on the emotional health of these disabled women caused by their negotiation of the multiple, shifting, conflicting identities foisted upon them by external agents.

Britain’s disabled are being abandoned by the state (report with Karen Soldatic, Hannah Morgan and Chris Grover, 2012)

Soldatic, K., Reeve, D., Morgan, H. and Grover, C. (2012) Britain’s disabled are being abandoned by the state, [Internet], OpenDemocracy. Available from <http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/karen-soldatic-donna-reeve-hannah-morgan-chris-grover/britains-disabled-are-being-abandon> [Accessed 19 April 2012].

A short accessible piece highlighting the problems faced by disabled people under welfare reform.