Exploring the impact of disability onset on individual wellbeing in the UK

This research project is available across the ESRC Wales (DTP). Find out more information about the DTP and how to apply.

Application deadline: 11 May 2018

Start date: 1 October 2018


The lack of progress towards the UK government commitment to ‘halve the disability employment gap’, the percentage point difference in the employment rates between disabled and non-disabled people, has been the subject of multiple Parliamentary Inquiries and a recent Green Paper and strategy document, Improving Lives.

This PhD provides a unique opportunity to work in partnership with Disability Rights UK, on a project which will contribute up-to-date nationally representative evidence to directly inform policy in relation to this and the broader social and economic inclusion of disabled people, who are one of the most disadvantaged groups within society.

Project aims and methods

The focus will be on disability acquired during working-age, which is experienced by more than 80% of all working-age disabled people, and will consider, but also extend beyond, employment to more comprehensively explore the impact on income, deprivation, consumption, financial situation (eg debt and savings) and subjective wellbeing.

In using longitudinal data, the PhD will explore whether/how the impact develops pre-onset, at onset and the extent to which it persists. It will also consider factors affecting this, including the timing of onset during the life-course, the role of disability benefit income and the impact of (and on) other household members.

The project aims to build on previous economic analysis of disability using longitudinal data internationally (Stephens, 2001; Charles, 2003; Meyer and Mok, 2013; Polidano and Vu 2015) and previous analysis of the British Household Panel Survey (Oswald and Powdthavee, 2008; Powdthavee, 2009).

It is intended to provide contemporary evidence based on Understanding Society which surveys about 40,000 households regularly since 2010. These rich longitudinal micro-data (currently six waves) provide a unique opportunity to explore the impact of disability in the UK.

Possible research questions include:

  • what impact does the onset of disability have on an individual’s outcomes such as the probability of employment, household income and wellbeing?
  • how does the impact of disability onset develop longitudinally? For example, does the impact persist post-onset or is there evidence of adaptation and/or recovery?
  • to what extent do government policies eg in relation to disability benefit income influence the impact of, and adaptation to, disability onset?
  • what impact does disability onset have on other household members? For example, how does the onset of disability impact on the employment and wellbeing of a spouse?

It is intended that the PhD will be based around advanced quantitative methods, particularly the econometric analysis of large scale high-quality, longitudinal, nationally representative micro-data.

This facilitates a dynamic, life course analysis and the application of panel data methods such as event study models. In controlling for observable and unobservable individual characteristics the aim is to isolate the causal impact of disability onset.

Collaboration with leading charity

This project is in collaboration Disability Rights UK who provide highly-respected specialist advice to government on policy affecting disabled people.

You will have a unique opportunity to disseminate the findings from their research to policymakers, disability focused organisations and to receive training in external engagement and developing impact from your research. As such, you will be expected to actively engage with Disability Rights UK throughout the course of your studies.


Melanie Jones

Professor Melanie Jones

Professor of Economics, Deputy Section Head - Research, Innovation and Engagement

029 2087 5079

Programme information

For programme structure, entry requirements and how to apply, visit the Business Studies programme.

View programme
Tuition fee discount of £3,400 for eligible Welsh and EU students starting a master’s degree in September 2018.

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