3: Getting in, being heard and influencing change: the labours of policy engagement in employment and social security research

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UK employment policy is at a critical juncture; the effects of COVID-19 and Brexit on the labour market have heightened pre-existing and created new employment and income inequalities. Such experiences (and related temporary government policy responses) play out alongside the long-term roll-out of Universal Credit, a social security policy that imposes conditionality on a range of individuals, including people who are in work. As Universal Credit has the potential to transform power dynamics between individuals, the state and employers, revisiting and questioning the direction of active labour market policies (ALMPs) should unite the interests of diverse social security and employment researchers. Policymakers should draw on an abundance of research to reform the UK’s ALMPs and avoid replicating the problems of narrowly conceived work-first programmes and practices. In this chapter, we explore the role of social policy researchers in influencing policy change, reflecting on our own experiences as early career researchers. We advocate a ‘pragmatic realist’ approach to policy engagement and reflect on different approaches to operating at the evidence–policy interface.

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