Incapacity benefits research: new publications

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

Gulland, J., 2017. Working while incapable to work?  Changing concepts of permitted work in the UK disability benefit system. Disability Studies Quarterly 37. 

How can a person be ‘incapable of work’ but at the same time ‘working’? This article discusses how the idea of ‘permitted work’ evolved in the UK social security system.  In the early twentieth century people were allowed to do small amounts of ‘trivial’ work while still claiming benefits.  This changed with the two World Wars leading to more formal ways in which disabled people could be allowed to do ‘therapeutic work’ and still claim benefits. The law was complicated and people sometimes appealed when they were told that the work they were doing was not therapeutic.  The appeal decisions helped to define what people could or couldn’t do.  In the late twentieth century social security policy changed so that people claiming disability benefits were expected to do as much as possible to return to work.  The rules under Employment and Support Allowance today mean that many people must make attempts to find work or risk losing their benefits.  But there are still strict rules about how much work you can do while still claiming.  There are still complicated permitted work rules.  That is changing with the introduction of the controversial Universal Credit but there are still risks for people who need to prove that they are ‘disabled enough’ to qualify for benefit but can also work.  This article traces the changes in legislation and interpretation through appeal decisions from 1911 until today.
I’ve also written about some of these issues on the blog here
This article is part of a special themed issue in the Disability Studies Quarterly on ‘Disability, Work And Representation: New Perspectives’  . Read more here

Gulland, J., 2017. All under one umbrella? The Family Guide to National Insurance 1948. Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly 68, 259–270.

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

Family Guide 1948 ‘making a claim’

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

Model of Family Guide Jackie Gulland

Pop-up owl Jackie Gulland

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

 

 

A library and an art gallery: two Blakes in Newcastle 

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.

The library – Daniel Blake

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.

The Art Gallery – Quentin Blake

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.

Pop-up Museum of legal objects

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.

Family Guide to National Insurance 1948

 

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’.

Model of Family Guide Jackie Gulland

When you opened it up, an owl popped out, fitting I thought for a pop-up museum.

Pop-up owl Jackie Gulland

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?

Family Guide to National Insurance 1948

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.

Being creative with conference presentations

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.

Incapacity and unemployment

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.

Owls popping up all over the place

Family Guide 1948 cashing order

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.