We will be launching the book from this project, Gender, Work and Social Control: a century of disability benefits at an event on Tuesday 11 February, 2020. All welcome. To attend the launch, please use the booking form here
We will be launching the book from this project, Gender, Work and Social Control: a century of disability benefits at an event on Tuesday 11 February, 2020. All welcome. To attend the launch, please use the booking form here
I am delighted to announced that the book from this project has now been published
Thank you to everyone who has made this possible, including readers and prospective readers!
You can order a copy from the publisher at this link .Your library service may also be able to find a copy for you.
For a taster of some of the content and some of the development of the ideas in this book, have a look at previous blog posts on this site.
I am delighted that the book from this project Gender, Work and Social Control: a Century of Disability Benefits is now in production and will be available in July 2019.
For details please see the publisher’s website here https://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9781137605627
I have just sent the final manuscript for the book from this project: Gender, work and social control: a century of disability benefits, to the publishers, Palgrave Macmillan for their socio-legal studies series.
It has been a long road to get to this stage and it has had its ups and downs. Writing a book can be a slow process, one step forward, two steps back most of the time. Just as a chapter looks as if it’s almost there, I realise I’ve missed something or it doesn’t make sense or it doesn’t capture what I really wanted to say. Writing a book is a lonesome process and it is easy to sink under waves of self-doubt. At one stage, when I was feeling particularly downhearted, I was discussing the research with a friend in a cafe. My enthusiasm for the project must have come through somehow because the woman at the next table came up to me and said ‘That sounds fascinating. You should write a book about it’. She did not know how important that was to me then.
I found this drawing under a pile of papers. It represents how I was feeling about a year ago when I took part in a course on creative research methods at the Morgan Centre at the University of Manchester. The organisers asked us to draw a picture, illustrating a problem with our research.This picture was an attempt to show what I was thinking at that time. In the top left corner there is a pile of papers. These represent all the archive files that I have been working on for years of this project. In the top right are all the people in the archives, calling out to me, telling me their stories, waiting to be heard. In the middle is my laptop, where the project mainly lies and where most of the thinking gets done. Down in the bottom left hand corner is another pile of paper. These are all the pages and pages of draft manuscript that a book produces. Most of my drafts have stayed in electronic form but this represents the many different versions that I have worked on. Then there is the book itself – imagined as a finished product, a real thing with a cover and a spine.
When I drew this picture, my problem concerned how to get from the middle of the picture to that finished book. Now I’m nearly there. There’s still work to be done but that particular problem has been mostly solved.
Finally, in the bottom right hand corner you can find a reader – you perhaps? I don’t know what the reader, or you, will think about it but I’ve done most of my work.
I’m delighted that a couple of new publications from this project about incapacity benefits across the twentieth century have appeared recently. You can find full details of these articles and how to access them on the publications page – link here
This article tells the story of the ‘Family Guide to National Insurance’ which I found unexpectedly in an archive while looking for something else. The Guide was published in 1948 and was intended to inform the public about their rights and responsibilities under the new National Insurance scheme. But the story of the Guide is more complicated than that. When I first saw the Guide I noticed the owls – and I wrote about this on the blog here
The pictures struck me as quirky, but rather patronising. I tried to find out more about them but couldn’t find any trace of the artist or who decided to include them. But I did find a survey, carried out in 1948 to find out what the public thought of the leaflet. There was no mention of the owls in the survey but there was a lot of interesting material about what people thought. Mainly, people didn’t read the booklet or didn’t understand what it was about. I wondered why a booklet with these kinds of pictures seemed to everyone else to be just a boring government leaflet. I took part in a conference presentation where we had to make a model about our research. I wrote about the conference on the blog here. My model was a mock up of the leaflet, complete with a boring cover and a pop-up owl
The article in the Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly tells the story of how I used this model to think about the meaning of the Family Guide to National Insurance. This article is part of a special issue on using models to think about socio-legal research – read more about other people’s explorations with legal model making here
This week marks seventy-five years since the publication of the Beveridge Report. The report provided a vision of a National Insurance scheme which would provide people with sickness and unemployment benefits, retirement pensions, widows’ pensions and industrial injuries payments, in return for the payment of national insurance contributions. Today there is much discussion of what has been lost since Beveridge’s vision of a welfare state which would slay the five giants of ‘Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness’. And rightly so. Seventy-five years since this report was published, we find levels of poverty and inequality which Beveridge thought would be eliminated.
On publication day (1 December 1942) people queued overnight to buy a copy and it sold 60,000 copies straight away. Nicholas Timmins speculated whether it may ‘stand alongside Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time as one of the most bought, but least read books ever published in Britain’ (For more information see Timmins, Nicholas, The Five Giants: A Biography of the Welfare State (London: Harper Collins, 1995, new edition 2017).
Beveridge wasn’t right about everything though. Many have criticised him for assuming a model of working life which depended on a male breadwinner, employed in stable work between leaving school and retiring, married to a housewife in a lifetime heterosexual relationship. He was wrong about lifetime secure jobs. He was wrong about women. He was wrong about marriage. He did not give adequate attention to disabled people who find it difficult to find work through discrimination and lack of support. The scheme did not cope well for people in precarious work or to people who struggle to stay in full-time employment. The world has changed. Many of Beveridge’s assumptions were wrong, or have been overturned by demographic change. His scheme has been diluted by the erosion of the surrounding scaffolding of full employment and the wider welfare state.
Beveridge was wrong about a lot of things, and it isn’t entirely fair to criticise him for being unable to foresee the future, but my copy of his report is still one of my most treasured possessions:
My own copy of the report is a reprint from 1974, (price £2.35) which I acquired second-hand some time in the 1990s for £5.25. You can usually access it online these days but not back in the 1990s and sometimes it’s good to have a hard copy. The report has a wealth of information about Beveridge’s thinking behind his scheme. The report and its appendices, running to 200,000 words, is also full of detail about the pre-war National Insurance scheme. It has provided me with valuable information for my research project.
I was looking at it today, not because of the anniversary of its publication but because I needed some information in it about levels of sickness benefit in 1911. Beveridge was wrong about many things but he also has a typo in his report. On page 215 he notes that the original 1911 sickness benefit was paid at a lower rate to ‘unmarried miners’. No William, not miners, minors: people under the age of 21. Young people were assumed to need less income when they were ill than their older neighbours but this rule was later changed. Women were paid at lower rates than men. Anybody claiming benefit for more than twenty-six weeks was paid at half the rate. Later, married women were paid at lower rates than unmarried women but miners (men) were eligible for the full rate of benefit for the first twenty-six weeks of their claim.
But the report is so useful and so important. I can forgive him this typo.
I’m not a collector of old books but some seem to come my way – like the Family Guide to National Insurance which was published to tell people about their rights under the 1948 National Insurance Scheme. I’ve just written an article about this in the Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly – copy also available through Edinburgh Research Explorer. The article discusses the 1948 National Insurance scheme, the Family Guide to National Insurance and its reception by the public in 1948. It is part of a special issue on legal model making. You can find out more about my adventures with the Guide and the legal treasures project here
Daniel Blake and Quentin Blake: what do a fictional character from a hard-hitting, award-winning Ken Loach film and a celebrated children’s book illustrator have in common?. I found a connection at the Socio-Legal Studies Association annual conference, held this year at the University of Newcastle. I’ll try to explain.
As I made my way through the Newcastle city streets, I could not help but notice the local accents and some of the memorable film locations in I Daniel Blake . I passed the library where Daniel Blake tries to make an online claim for benefits and wondered if there were real people like him inside, struggling with the technology and the bureaucracy. The library also contains a Citizens Advice Bureau so perhaps those real claimants will get the advice that Daniel Blake so desperately needed. It is perhaps obvious what the connection was between this film and the Socio-Legal Studies Association conference, where I spent most of my time in the Social Rights and Citizenship stream: listening to speakers discussing the effects of austerity and ‘welfare reform’, and the ways in which the law might, or might not, help to tackle the challenges of poverty and inequality. I would have liked to go to other sessions, where people talked about access to justice, the increasing use of technology in social administration, homelessness, gender, disability: all themes that arise in this important film. I referred to the film in my own paper, where I discussed historical data on how the welfare state has tried to distinguish between unemployment and ‘incapacity for work’. Daniel Blake finds himself at the centre of this predicament but his problems are not new. There were Daniel Blakes in the 1980s and in the 1930s, when disabled people and people with health issues struggled to find appropriate work at times of high unemployment and struggled to claim benefits when they could not access work. There were also Daniel Blakes in the 1950s, when the labour market was stronger but there was not always the right kind of work in the areas where people lived, or where social attitudes to gender and disability meant that disabled people were last in the queue for jobs. Crucially, for my research, there were also women, facing different and often greater challenges to accessing benefits than men. The connection between Daniel Blake and my paper at the conference was clear.
Opposite the library is the Laing Art Gallery, a less likely setting for my thoughts on this conference. But here there was an exhibition of the work of Quentin Blake.
The conference package included a tour of the exhibition. Although I could not immediately see the socio-legal connection, as a committed fan of Quentin Blake’s work, I was not going to miss this. The exhibition itself is stunning, with original art works, story boards, drafts, notes on how this great artist creates characters and scenes, how some of our favourite children’s book characters have come to life: Roald Dahls’s Matilda, and The Twits, David Walliams’ The Boy in the Dress, Michael Rosen in his devastating but somehow uplifting Sad Book and of course Quentin Blake’s own Cockatoos, Dancing Frog and the fabulous Captain Najork and his hired sportsmen (Information about all of these books here https://www.quentinblake.com/books). What I really loved about the exhibition was the space and the activity tables, which allowed adults as well as children to create their own stories, read the books and think about the nature of story-telling and illustration and, ultimately, being human. You may think of Quentin Blake as an outstanding children’s illustrator. That in itself is a wonderful thing but his illustrations: both in his own books and collaborations with other authors, also tackle the most important issues in society: grief and loss, inequality and difference, childhood and old age, loneliness and friendship, health and identity, justice and retribution and, in the depths of some of the darkest tales, hope.
But what does any of this have to do with socio-legal studies? Well the theme of the SLSA conference this year was ‘Visions of Law’ and the plenary had speakers on graphic justice, photography, model making and art and law. These speakers gave us much to think about. I also participated this year in the ‘Pop-up Museum of Legal Objects’.
We were asked to choose an object – any object which could have a ‘legal’ aspect, relevant to our research – so long as the object was also publicly available in a museum or similar public place and that it had an online presence. I chose The Family Guide to National Insurance, 1948, which I have written about here.
We were also asked to make a model of our object – the idea being that making the model would help us to think about our research differently, perhaps bring a whole new angle to the research or maybe help us to describe our work in new ways. My model for the conference was a mock-up of the Family Guide, showing a rather boring ‘official leaflet’.
When you opened it up, an owl popped out, fitting I thought for a pop-up museum.
Making the model helped me to think about the nature of this leaflet, who wrote it, who read it, who drew the pictures and what were the images trying to portray?
The owls under the umbrella appeared to symbolise a vision of an inclusive welfare state: one where everyone is protected, a long way from today’s vision of ‘welfare’ as negative and stigmatising.
Information about this and details of the objects are all available on the legal treasures website. https://legaltreasure.wordpress.com/collections/pop-up-museum-of-legal-objects-2017/
So where is the connection to Quentin Blake? I managed to bring one of his images to my talk, an image from his book Three Little Owls . In this book, Quentin Blake’s owls also have umbrellas, just like those in the Family Guide. But the main connection is in the link to creativity. Drawing, making, doing things in three dimensions can all help us to think about legal issues (or any research issues ) in new ways. I had some great conversations about this and I left the conference buzzing.
If you haven’t done it yet, go and see I Daniel Blake (community showings going in many areas but now also out on DVD), go to the Quentin Blake exhibition (if you can’t get there, go to his website and read all of his books) and then think about what connections you can make between two Blakes and your work.
I’m delighted to see that Mary Macarthur, who was a campaigner for women’s rights to sickness benefits, has been commemorated today by a blue plaque on her home in London. Information here
In her very short life, Mary Macarthur was active in the labour and trade union movement, campaigning for women’s rights in the workplace. She stood (unsuccessfully) for parliament in 1918, as a Labour candidate, campaigning, among other things, for equal pay, a living wage, peace, the abolition of the Poor Law and the House of Lords and the right of allotment holders to ‘the fruits and vegetables of their labours’.*
Less well known are her efforts to improve sickness benefits for working women. The UK’s first national insurance sickness benefit scheme was launched in 1911. Within a year of its introduction a committee was set up to look at ‘excessive claims’ for benefit. The committee met for seven months and collected evidence from ninety-four witnesses and looked at 1,500 pages of written evidence. Mary Macarthur was a member of the committee, representing the Women’s Trade Union League. Her involvement on the committee included listening to the evidence of the witnesses, giving evidence on behalf of the National Federation of Women Workers and writing a dissenting memorandum to the final report. In her evidence and her dissenting memorandum she stressed the need to take account of the realities of working class women’s lives in deciding their claims for sickness benefit. She dismissed ideas that women were claiming benefit in order to get away from the factories, or because they could get more money from benefit than they could earn her wages, or because they couldn’t understand the principles of the insurance scheme. She argued instead that women had a right to benefit because they were ill and had contributed to the scheme through their work in the factories.
For more information about the committee and Mary Macarthur’s involvement in the sickness benefit scheme, see my contribution to the Dangerous Women project and Gulland, J. (2013), ‘Extraordinary Housework: women and claims for sickness benefit in the early 20th century’, Women’s History Magazine, 71, Spring 2013, pp23-30.
For further information on Mary Macarthur, see Angela John, ‘Macarthur, Mary Reid (1880-1921)’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2004). Available at http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/30411 Access to the online edition is often available through public libraries
* Election address reproduced in Barnesly, T. 2010 Breaking their chains: Mary Macarthur and the chainmaker’s strike of 1910, London: Bookmarks Publications.
Hunt, C. (2014) The National Federation of Women Workers, 1906-1921. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.
I’ve been a bit lost in book writing lately but I have the chance to do something a little different at a forthcoming conference. I will be going to the Socio-Legal Studies Association conference in Newcastle in April.
In one presentation I will talk about the link between incapacity benefits and unemployment. It is well established that claims for incapacity benefits go up in times of high unemployment and people are more likely to claim incapacity benefits in areas where there are fewer jobs. It is fairly easy to understand why this is: people with health issues or impairments find it more difficult to find jobs at the best of times and struggle when there are fewer jobs to go around. But legal decision makers have always argued that it is possible to distinguish between ‘unemployment’ and ‘incapacity for work’. So people who have health issues and can’t find jobs are often described as unemployed rather than unable to work. This has important consequences for their benefits entitlement, how much they may be entitled to and whether they have to look for work in order to qualify. My paper will show how these legal ideas developed across the twentieth century.
My second paper will be a little different. Here I will be taking part in the ‘Pop-up Museum of Legal Objects’. I will use this innovative session to talk about a little booklet from 1948 which advertised the new post-war National Insurance scheme. I’ve written about it on the blog before – see here. When I was in the National Archives a few weeks ago, I found out a bit more about this leaflet so I have more to say. The pop-up museum asks me to make a model of my object so I have a bit of work to do. I’ve been looking in charity shops and getting out the glue…. If this gets too interesting, I might be taking the Blue Peter skills to the other session too.
In 1928 a furnace man had a stroke. He could no longer continue in his job so he claimed Sickness Benefit. He claimed benefit for several years but eventually the benefits decision makers decided that he was now fit for light work. They suggested that he could ‘drive a quiet horse and do goods delivery work of a quiet character’. It was not clear how he was supposed to find a job where a ‘quiet horse’ was the main requirement. Fortunately for him, he was able to appeal this decision. At the hearing the appeal judges decided that he was unable to work and he was able to keep his benefit.
In my research on the meaning of ‘incapacity for work’ across the twentieth century I have found many examples of suggestions as to the kind of work that claimants might be able to do. It seems fairly simple. If someone was unable to carry on with their ‘usual work’, it was reasonable to expect them to consider what other work they might be able to do. When we look at the kinds of jobs that decision makers suggested we see that these suggestions were strongly influenced by social expectations about work. In the early twentieth century almost all suggested occupations were different for men and women: so men were frequently told that they could work as caretakers or watchmen while women were expected to do domestic work. A few occupations were suggested for both men and women: lift attendants, shop work and clerical work, although the language for these differed. Men were told that they might be able to manage a shop, while women were told they could be shop assistants. This is not at all surprising for the time but it illustrates that the definition of ‘incapacity for work’ was dependent on different assumptions about what men and women could do. It was never suggested to men that they could work as domestic servants and it was never suggested to women that they could do the range of jobs usually expected of men.
Jumping forward to the late twentieth century and Invalidity Benefit decision makers began to use standardised suggestions for jobs which benefits claimants might be able to do. From my own experience of working as a welfare rights officer in central Scotland in the 1980s and 1990s, the then Department of Health and Social Security often suggested that claimants could work as bridge toll attendants. No doubt the DHSS expected people to work on the Forth Road Bridge, which had staffed toll gates at the time. Despite the fact that vacancies on the bridge tolls were probably few and far between, it was rarely the case that claimants were able to manage these jobs. We often represented people with a range of back problems, which, combined with a lack of relevant experience or sometimes appropriate numeracy skills, made this kind of post particularly unsuitable.In other parts of the country the jobs suggested would include attendants at car parks, swimming pools and museums, on the assumption that these were ‘sedentary’ jobs that would be manageable by people with a range of physical impairments. Often these jobs were unsuitable because they involved sitting for long periods, lifting and bending, a range of numeracy and interpersonal skills and sometimes the need to act in an emergency as a first aider or security guard. This is not to suggest that people claiming Invalidity Benefit could never do these jobs. However, in individual cases, the suggestions were often unsuitable. With the help of advisers, claimants could challenge these assumptions when they appealed, using evidence about the reality of the work suggested. This allowed people, who had great difficult in finding suitable work, to keep their much needed benefits.
Rules for incapacity benefits have changed dramatically since the 1980s and now we have the draconian Employment and Support Allowance. There is still a pressing need for advice and the right of appeal against unreasonable decisions.