"Like having a perpetrator on your back": Violence in the Welfare System
Aileen Elizabeth Clark Speake
This thesis addresses the impact of the contemporary social security system on women living in England and Wales who are victims/survivors of rape and sexual abuse. It uses a triangular conceptualisation of violence, comprising direct, cultural, and structural violence, to explore the experiences of these women and to examine whether the social security system is involved in designing and implementing actions, decisions, practices and processes which are culturally and structurally violent and
... hich prevent the women from meeting their basic needs, or living a "minimally decent life" (Miller, 2007). There were four main findings from this research. First, that the social security system as an institution plays an active role in exacerbating women victims/survivors mental and physical health conditions and is moving women further from recovery. Second, that the social security system is implementing policies which are both based on and involved in producing and reproducing cultural patterns which systematically denigrated the women by misrepresenting and stigmatising their identities, decisions, and actions, that is, the system plays an active role in misrecognising the participants. Third, in their interactions with the social security system, the women continually had their experiences minimised and disbelieved: the social security system as an institution is actively involved in invalidating the women's accounts of themselves and their lives, often in order to deny them entitlement to support. Fourth, the women's relationship with the social security system is one frequently characterised by abuse: not only were their prior experiences of abuse mirrored in their interactions with the system, but the interactions were sometimes experienced as abusive in and of themselves. By centreing the experiences of these victims/survivors of sexual violence and their interactions with the social security system, this thesis contributes to critical social policy literature and advances understanding of conditionality within the welfare system, and its impact on a marginalised group of women. It also furthers the scholarship of cultural and structural violence, firstly, by providing empirical evidence about how these phenomena occur in people's everyday lives and interactions, and secondly, by theorising these experiences as forms of misrecognition and invalidation. Finally, it has provided critical social policy with new conceptual tools to understand the experiences and impacts of the social security system. The findings of this thesis are based on in-depth qualitative interviews, and a small number of written submissions, with 16 women who self-identified as victims/survivors of rape and/or sexual abuse and who had also reported experiencing problems with their benefit claims at some point since 2012. Participants were recruited through a number of different avenues from locations throughout England and Wales. The research was conducted from a critical realist standpoint and drew on feminist principles to inform the ethical approach underpinning the research.