Research aims to give a ‘voice’ to those affected by welfare reform

Leeds Federated Housing Association, which has 4,000 homes across Leeds and Harrogate including about 1,000 in South Leeds, is taking part in a research project to explore the effects of welfare reform.

The housing association is working with Ruth Patrick, a doctoral researcher in the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds, in her three-year study over the build-up to and introduction of changes to welfare.

Leeds Fed tenants are taking part in interviews and both the participants and the association is involved in her steering group for the research.  The charity GIPSIL is also helping Ruth with the study, which is being funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

She aims to record the ‘lived experiences’ of welfare reform of those that will be affected by it.

Ruth said: “It has been very useful having Leeds Fed’s help and I hope to discover how welfare reform is affecting people’s daily lives.”

Welfare reforms are ongoing and big changes are due to come into force next year with a switch to universal credit paid direct to tenants, cuts to housing benefits for those ‘under-occupying’ properties and tighter conditions on eligibility for welfare.

Leeds Fed is working with the local authority to identify tenants that will be affected so it can target advice and support at the right people, and help them prepare for the changes.

Community Development Manager Sue Jennings said: “Welfare reform will affect hundreds of our tenants and while we are working to help them through the transition, we also want to be a part of a wider understanding of the changes, which may help us provide even better support.”

So far Ruth’s research has shown that the perception of welfare dependency as a ‘lifestyle choice’ doesn’t fit with the experiences of those she has interviewed.

She hopes that the study will give a voice to those affected and feed into policy debates on the issue.

She said: “There has been comparatively little research into welfare claimant’s own attitudes and experiences of welfare reform so this project should contribute important new knowledge and understanding.

“So far the main thing I have found is that there is a gap between the way Government talks about benefit claimants and the reality for those on welfare. Many are desperate to work and have worked in the past.

“It is about people’s life stories, those that will actually be affected whose viewpoints are too often absent.”