Since the 2008 economic crisis, millions of people in the UK have been considered ‘workers’ or ‘self-employed’ (as opposed to ‘employees’), relying on insecure contracts with no sick pay and other statutory rights. These workers are often on low income and at a higher risk of being maltreated by employers and colleagues. Meanwhile, Government institutions and some thinktanks have propagated the idea that ‘gig economy work’ benefits everyone due to its ‘flexible’ nature which allows for one’s needs to be met. In practice, however, ‘flexibility’ is often one-sided, disproportionately benefitting employers/ contractors.
With the publication of the 2017 White Paper on Work, Health and Disability, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Department of Health (DoH) restated the Government’s manifesto pledge of bringing 1 million more disabled people into work over the next 10 years. The idea that ‘work is good for you’ was put forward throughout the document, implying that being in work (of any kind) will automatically lead to ‘good health’ and will take you ‘out of poverty’. If a disabled person does even a few hours of insecure work per week, they are classed as ‘employed’. This way, unemployment figures nationally are being reduced, while more individuals are struggling to make ends meet and to adequate support. Therefore, work is treated as a ‘cure’ for illness, mental health, disability, and poverty. However, this approach has a detrimental and often devastating effect on people’s lives.
This is a social justice issue that needs to be addressed by as many of us as possible. I have made the commitment to focus on this issue in the next three years (at least), to find ways to counteract the dogma of work, and to contribute to changing the terms of debate. Work should not be used as a criterion to punish disabled people and/or people with chronic illness. I want this study to reflect the perspective and experiences of disabled people and/or people who experience chronic illness, and who are undertaking insecure work. The writings that will emerge from the project will represent interventions in discussions surrounding experiences of disablement through insecure work, what being ‘a productive member of society’ should mean, and how we can think about work and its distribution differently. There is nobody else but yourselves who have the best knowledge on these matters. Every single story is unique and deserves to be heard, as testimony of what it means to be living in Britain today. This is one way in which I hope to contribute to improving the livelihoods of people in the UK.