Published online by Cambridge University Press: 11 March 2022
Disabled people, work and welfare has focused on various aspects of relationships between work and income replacement social welfare benefits for disabled people. In various ways, the chapters critically engage with the idea that ‘work is the best form of welfare’ for disabled people, which is visible in Britain and many of the other countries that the book has focused on. There are several themes that can be drawn from the chapters of the book. These include:
• the nature of wage work as a process;
• difficulties for disabled people that arise from the desire to commodify their labour power;
• difficulties that there are in making the claim that wage work provides for disabled people both a secure and above-poverty-level income.
While these themes are in practice inextricably linked, for analytical purposes we look at them separately below.
Wage work as a socially embedded process
We see, for example, that as it is dependent on the productive value of individual workers, the labour process under capitalist forms of accumulation is something that inherently acts against the employment of disabled people. Competitive individualism and the extraction of profit from the work of employees means that at a fundamental level disabled people are disadvantaged in labour markets. This is because, depending on who one reads, even within disability studies, they are perceived by employers as being less productive than other, non-disabled workers or because of their impairment, they are less productive as they are unable to labour within the temporal and rhythmic demands of wage work and/or its intensity. There have, of course, been various attempts to address such issues, for example, the payment of subsidies to employers so that essentially it becomes profitable to employ them; the retraining and rehabilitation of disabled workers; work experience and tasters that are not only supposed to help (re)attach workless disabled people to labour markets, but also to demonstrate their potential to employers. Such interventions, though, are only required because of the characteristics, such as competitive individualism and economic productivity, that underpin capitalist notions of wage work and other employment activity.
It is within this context that Chapters Twelve to Fourteen discussed aspects of alternatives to wage work as being the activity through which disabled people are valued. Drawing on examples from Britain and Canada, Chapter Twelve discussed the value of work outside of that necessarily concerned with productive value and profit maximisation.