This paper presents findings from a qualitative longitudinal study into the lived experiences of welfare reform in the UK. The study set out to explore how individuals directly affected by changes to the benefits system experienced and responded to these reforms. A small group of out-of-work benefits claimants were interviewed three times between 2011 and 2013. The research found that ‘getting by’ on benefits often entailed substantial hard ‘work’, which was frequently time intensive, with many participants also engaged in other forms of socially valuable contribution such as caring and volunteering. A strong orientation towards paid employment was evident across most of the sample and fluid movements in and out of work, characteristic of the ‘low-pay, no-pay’ cycle, was quite common. Alongside a discussion of these findings, this paper considers the (mis)match between the government rhetoric of benefits as a ‘lifestyle choice’ and individual lived experiences.
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