Blaming the victim, all over again: Waddell and Aylward's biopsychosocial (BPS) model of disability

Tom Shakespeare, Nicholas Watson, Ola Abu Alghaib

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The biopsychosocial (BPS) model of mental distress, originally conceived by the American psychiatrist George Engel in the 1970s and commonly used in psychiatry and psychology, has been adapted by Gordon Waddell and Mansell Aylward to form the theoretical basis for current UK Government thinking on disability. Most importantly, the Waddell and Aylward version of the BPS has played a key role as the Government has sought to reform spending on out-of- work disability benefits. This paper presents a critique of Waddell and Aylward’s model, examining its origins, its claims and the evidence it employs. We will argue that its potential for genuine inter-disciplinary cooperation and the holistic and humanistic benefits for disabled people as envisaged by Engel are not now, if they ever have been, fully realized. Any potential benefit it may have offered has been eclipsed by its role in Coalition/Conservative government social welfare policies that have blamed the victim and justified restriction of entitlements.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-41
Number of pages20
JournalCritical Social Policy
Issue number1
Early online date25 May 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2017


  • Disability classification
  • welfare benefits
  • assessment
  • employment

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