Becoming incapacitated? Long-term sickness benefit recipients and the construction of stigma and identity narratives

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Abstract

The transition to becoming ‘incapacitated’ and receiving sickness benefits represents a significant shift in an individual's narrative. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 25 long-term sickness benefits recipients in North-East England, this article focuses upon how individuals perceived and managed becoming ‘incapacitated’, particularly in relation to stigma and identity. The findings show that participants negotiated changes to their identity in varying ways – constructing new dimensions of self, validating their illness and pursuing aspirations. Importantly, the transition onto sickness benefits does not inevitably result in a shift to a negative identity. The term incapacity can include many realities, challenging the notion of sickness benefit recipients as being passively dependent. Instead, an active, sometimes very functional sense of self can be accompanied by a positive identity for recipients, which is especially important, in a context of the rhetoric surrounding ongoing welfare reform and sickness benefits recipients in the UK.

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