I will develop qualitative methodological tools to investigate some of the most pressing issues relating to working-age social security benefits that have been exacerbated (or less often created) by the coronavirus pandemic.
The research programme is motivated by two major, interrelated, challenges: a) The policy challenges for the working-age social security system that have been revealed or exacerbated by the pandemic, with a particular focus on key groups, including: disabled claimants or those with a long-term health condition; claimants balancing paid and unpaid work; and in-work claimants in receipt of social security.
b) The methodological challenges for researchers brought about by physical and social distancing, and the wide-ranging socioeconomic aftereffects of the pandemic, with a particular focus on: the challenges of physical remoteness; lack of inclusive practices in existing methods; ongoing and increased time scarcity of some research participants; and the lack of participatory practices in existing methods.
The broad project phases are as follows.
Preparatory phase: Alongside a more standard process of literature review and methods preparation, I will carry out an explicitly cross-disciplinary learning exercise. Social policy research has much to learn from other areas and disciplines in terms of methods innovation.
Research strands 1 and 2: These strands are focused on developing improved and new qualitative methods tools to understand the functioning of the social security system and how it can be improved. Key topics will include: how aspects of conditionality are navigated, how income (in)adequacy is achieved, processes of assessment, communication within the system, and claimant control and ‘voice’ within the system.
Research strand 3: This strand of work sits across strands 1 and 2 and will prototype and implement participatory approaches within which strands 1 and 2 will be embedded, drawing on existing models of good practice, and spanning to consider every stage of the research process.