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Research programmes

Work and welfare reform

Work and welfare reform

What is the impact of welfare reforms and changing work and employment practices on mental health?



Our Focus Areas

Our research focuses on three areas where social, cultural and economic changes have created substantial challenges for mental health:

  • Young People: What impact have recent social and economic changes, from the rise of social media to the growth of insecure employment, had on the mental health of young people?
  • Communities: What impact have recent social and economic changes, such as prolonged austerity, had on the mental health of disadvantaged and marginalised communities, including low income, black and minority ethnic, LGBTQ+, migrants and refugees?
  • Work and Welfare: What impact have changes in the nature of work, together with widespread welfare reforms, had on mental health, and what employment and welfare policies might better promote mental health?

Together, our programmes broadly cover the following themes:

Mental Health over the Life Course

Mental health problems develop over time as a consequence of physical, interpersonal, cultural, and social factors. Our research focuses in particular on mental health at times of social transitions (e.g. from childhood to adulthood; from education to employment). For example, during developmental stages through childhood, adolescence and early adulthood, there is a greater risk that the effects of social changes on mental health will be amplified, with long-term consequences. For this reason, we have a keen focus on young people, especially amongst disadvantaged and marginalised populations.

Contexts of Mental Distress

To understand the complex, multi-layered social experiences that shape the unfolding of mental health over time, we need to look beyond individual circumstances to the society surrounding us. We need to consider the nature of, and access to, social support, education, work, housing, neighbourhoods, and the ‘structural violence’ of discrimination, racism, and exclusion. We focus on what can shape the lives of individuals and communities. On a broad level, we analyse the impact of globalisation, urbanisation and migration. We look at social policies like austerity and the welfare system, as well as cultural and technological changes, like the rise of social media.

Vulnerability and Resilience

Social adversity does not inevitably lead to mental health problems or determine their severity and duration. Some individuals and groups are particularly vulnerable, whilst others seem resilient and able to cope despite hardship. Strategies for prevention need to be rooted in an understanding of why, when faced with similar difficulties, some people cope well and others do not. This perspective underpins our concern, in all our programmes, with identifying the social conditions, relationships and practices that exacerbate vulnerability or support resilience.