Welfare and wellbeing at older age

1Funded by the NIHR School for Public Health Research as part of the Ageing Well Programme of research.

Sheffield contact: Sarah Salway

What were the aims of this project?

This project aimed to:

  • Look at the ways in which welfare benefits shape wellbeing at older age.
  • Assess the health impact of any potential changes to benefits for this age group.

How was the research carried out?

Interviews were conducted with 30 older people from three different areas of the UK, including people from a range of ethnic, socio-economic and older age groups. We asked people about their work and social histories, their current day-to-day activities and financial and social priorities as well as their views and experiences of welfare provision for older people.

 Why is this important?

The continuation of universal welfare benefits for older people has been challenged at a national policy level. Calls for introducing further conditionality to benefits for older adults are often based on claims that this will increase fairness and equality but our findings indicate that introducing conditionality has the potential to promote inequality and foster differentiation and division among older people. Our findings drew attention to the material and psychosocial impact of welfare benefits, showing that universal benefits fostered self-worth and were seen as a reward for a lifetime of hard work and financial responsibility. When talking about needs-tested benefits older people questioned the moral deservingness of recipients. People assessed deservingness according to class, age, ethnicity and nationality. Applying for conditional benefits meant dealing with the stigma that older people felt were attached to these benefits; some people described feeling shame and a sense that they were applying for something that was not theirs. These feelings caused anxiety and deterred some people from applying.


The fieldwork was carried out between December 2013 and July 2014. The findings were published at the start of 2015.

 Who undertook the research?

This was carried out by the following researchers at the national School for Public Health Research: Judith Green (Project Lead), London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; Stefanie Buckner, Cambridge Institute of Public Health; Sarah Milton, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; Suzanne Moffatt, Fuse The Centre for Translational Research in Public Health, Newcastle University; Sarah Salway, School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR), University of Sheffield; Katie Powell, School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR), University of Sheffield. Thanks are due to Roy Darlison, Sheffield 50+ and the Sheffield Palliative Care Studies Advisory Group for their advice and to Mubarak Ismail, Sadique Bhanbro, Lerleen Willis for their contribution to data generation.

 How were stakeholders engaged?

  • We sought feedback on project aims and design through informal conversations with practitioners working to support older people in the field of welfare
  • We sought feedback on project aims, design and recruitment methods and emerging findings through more formal and structured face-to-face focus groups with older people: an engagement event was organised in Sheffield with lay people, commissioners, voluntary sector organisations and public health officers working with older people to discuss ways in which the findings might be used to inform practice.

 What are the outputs from the study?

A lay summary was prepared and shared with stakeholders locally and nationally.

A paper has been published:

Milton A, Buckner S, Salway S, Powell K, Moffatt S, Green J. Understanding welfare conditionality in the context of a generational habitus: A qualitative study of older citizens in England. (2015) Journal of Ageing Studies, 34, 113-122

Presentations have been given at a number of regional and national conferences.

Powell K. ‘Welfare benefits and wellbeing among older people’ at the SPHR Annual Scientific Meeting in Sheffield. October 2014

Powell K.  ‘Welfare benefits and wellbeing among older people’ at the EUPHA annual conference in Glasgow. November 2014