Getting what you deserve: how notions of deservingness feature in the experiences of employees with cancer

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This article extends deservingness debates in social welfare to a new domain by exploring how deservingness features in the experiences of people who are in paid work when diagnosed with cancer. In doing so, it explores the interrelationship between deservingness criteria and Parsons' sick role. Narrative interview data was collected from people with cancer who were employed when they were diagnosed (n = 14) and line managers with experience of managing an employee with cancer (n = 7). Semi-structured interviews were conducted with members of occupational health and human resources staff (n = 3), health care professionals (n = 5) and staff from a UK cancer support charity (n = 7). Data was analysed thematically. Deservingness featured, and mattered, in how participants understood cancer in relation to work, and ensuing workplace interactions. Though cancer was generally seen as deserving; employees with cancer were perceived to be in need, and not blamed for their condition, this deservingness was subject to question. Employees with cancer were not necessarily considered equally deserving, dependent on their contribution as workers pre-diagnosis, and their efforts to contribute since being diagnosed. In a reflection of the fixed-term, time constricted nature of the sick role, work and welfare institutions required a definite timeline for employees to return to, or depart from work. The paper evidences an important gap between the fixed sick role as perceived by employers and the UK state welfare system, and the complex experiences of people diagnosed with cancer when in paid work.
Original languageEnglish
Article number112447
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Early online date25 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2019


  • cancer
  • deservingness
  • employment
  • sick role
  • welfare


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