Detached from reality

2 March 2023

Screenshot of "Detached from reality" by Kayley Hignell

Yesterday, Citizens Advice published Detached from reality , a long read about the state of the welfare state in the UK.

I worked with author Kayley Hignell on this for several months. What started as a vague idea to write down some of the things in her head has ended up as a very specific, very personal summing-up of her 15 years’ experience; and a rallying cry for radical change in how benefits are designed .

Kayley is one of a very small handful of people who understand the welfare system well enough to be able to comment on it with authority.

In this piece, she describes how successive governments have made fiddly small changes to benefits, always hoping that the short-term benefits will go down. But the bill keeps going up, and there’s little sign of real, lasting change.

Kayley makes a powerful argument that benefits relating to health - aimed at people who have a condition that makes it hard, or impossible, for them to work - just aren’t fit for purpose. She points out that a simple, sustained investment in something like occupational therapy would make a huge difference, and perhaps go a long way to making that change happen.

It was an absolute joy to work with Kayley on this. She knows so much about welfare, and has so much to say. It’s fair to say that the direct, first-person, opinion-heavy approach we took with this piece is a new direction for Citizens Advice as an organisation, as much as for Kayley herself. I think the results are powerful: Kayley’s expertise, and the collective wisdom of the Citizens Advice team, shines through.

👉 Read Detached from reality

Comments from readers include:

“This may be the best thing ever written about the contemporary welfare system, and perhaps only Kayley Hignell could have written it - the combination of policy expertise, experience of working with the people the system is supposed to help, and deep empathy is compelling.” - Stefan Czerniawski, former civil servant.

“This from our Kayley Hignell is required reading for anyone interested in how to make the benefit system work better.” - Clare Moriarty, CEO at Citizens Advice and former Permanent Secretary at Defra.

“This is the single best thing I’ve read on the benefits debate for years.” - Tom Pollard, policy consultant.

“This is outstanding. Powerful, passionate and still measured.” - Aveek Bhattacharya , research director at the Social Market Foundation.

“Very thought-provoking essay from Kayley Hignell about UK welfare policy. One of her key points: people don’t respond like automatons to narrow financial incentives, but policymakers design the welfare system as if they do.” - Sarah O’Connor , Financial Times