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.