£3m project to analyse how different welfare systems can affect mental health

Heidi Pullig
Picture by Tom Grimbert

A major new research project funded by the European Research Council (ERC) will analyse how different welfare systems can affect people’s mental health and chances of returning to work – not just through the amount of money they get, but through the wider experience of claiming.

Co-investigators Dr Trude Sundberg and Dr Robert de Vries from Kent’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, with Professor Ben Baumberg Geiger, previously a Reader in Sociology and Social Policy at Kent, have been awarded a £3 million ERC grant to examine ‘claimant experiences’ across different countries, looking at the impacts of these experiences on mental health and work, and how policies influence these experiences.

Dr Sundberg said: ‘We are extremely happy to be able to carry out this study where we will work with claimants and user organisations to get a in depth understanding of the experiences of claiming benefits.’

Professor Geiger added: ‘To date, most research has looked at whether these systems reduce poverty and encourage people to work. These are important, but from speaking to claimants, we know that other things matter too – whether benefits provide dignity, security and feel fair; or whether people feel stigmatised, insecure, and unjustly treated.’

The overall aim of the five-year project – known as ‘WelfareExperiences’ – is to help advance academic knowledge and contribute to making claimant experiences better. To do this, the project team will collect in-depth qualitative data and conduct new surveys with claimants in Estonia, Hungary, Norway, Spain and the UK.

By analysing benefits in five countries, the research team will be able to look at how claimant experiences are affected by everything from particular interactions (such as conversations they have or messages received as part of their claim) to broad, country-wide factors (for example, wider levels of trust that people have in different systems).

The project is a collaboration between the University of Kent, King’s College London and several other research organisations: Oslo Metropolitan University (Norway), Tallinn University (Estonia), Praxis (Estonia), Complutense University of Madrid (Spain) and Central European University (Hungary).

It also involves collaboration with seven organisations that work with people who have lived experience of claiming: EPIK (Estonia), EAPN Spain, MEOSZ (Hungary), Velferdsalliansen EAPN Norway, APLE Collective (Thrive Teeside and Start Point) (UK), Inclusion Scotland, and Poverty Alliance.

The grant is a European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant, which is part of the European Union’s Horizon Europe programme. It aims to support scientists who have seven to 12 years’ experience after their PhDs, to pursue their most promising ideas.

President of the European Research Council Prof. Maria Leptin said: “ERC Consolidator grants support researchers at a crucial time of their careers, strengthening their independence, reinforcing their teams and helping them establish themselves as leaders in their fields. And this backing above all gives them a chance to pursue their scientific dreams.”