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  • Author or Editor: Anne Green x
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In a significant change to the UK social security system, the introduction of Universal Credit has seen the broadening of labour market activation to cover a larger number of population sub-groups. This change has also prompted a greater concern with employment sustainability and progression in work in active labour market policy (ALMP), as the benefit extends coverage to those in work and on low incomes. Implicit in this shift is the emergence of a greater emphasis on employment quality alongside the previously predominant focus on the quantity of employment opportunities. Concurrently, ‘good work’ is increasingly prominent in the policy discourse in the UK. Yet within a work-first system in which jobseekers are encouraged, and can be mandated, to accept available opportunities, there is only limited scope for public employment services to engage with a good work agenda, or to exert upwards institutional pressure on job quality. A context of labour and skills shortages in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic offers ALMP an opportunity to redress this situation. It also opens up questions about the relative prospects for progression in the internal labour market vis-à-vis the external labour market.

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This article explores the ways in which young people’s decisions about post-compulsory education, training and employment are shaped by place, drawing on case study evidence from three deprived neighbourhoods in England. It discusses the way in which place-based social networks and attachment to place influence individuals’ outlooks and how they interpret and act on the opportunities they see. While such networks and place attachment can be a source of strength in facilitating access to opportunities, they can also be a source of weakness in acting to constrain individuals to familiar choices and locations. In this way, ‘subjective’ geographies of opportunity may be much more limited than ‘objective’ geographies of opportunity. Hence it is important for policy to recognise the importance of ‘bounded horizons’.

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Low pay is a significant and growing issue in many developed economies. Sectoral approaches are often used in both economic development and labour market policy, yet there is little evidence on how low pay and earnings mobility vary by sector. This article investigates this issue in the UK. It shows pronounced sectoral variations in low pay and earnings mobility. It highlights the policy implications of growth in large, low paying sectors. While policymakers have focused on high-wage, high-skill sectors, efforts to improve productivity in low-wage sectors could improve living standards and the UK’s economic performance.

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UK employment policy is at a critical juncture and policies need to respond to unemployment and broader economic hardship induced by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, both immediate and longer-term policies need to take account of the body of research examining active labour market policies (ALMPs) to avoid replicating the problems of work-first employment support. This is increasingly important due to the growing numbers of applicants and former Tax Credit recipients to Universal Credit, a policy which extends conditional social security to those in work on a low income. Ensuring research into these developments influences policymakers should unite social security and employment researchers more broadly, as this unprecedented policy change has the potential to transform the way individuals, the state and employers interact, and the power balance between them. In this chapter, we explore the role of social policy researchers in this context and argue that policy development and research in this area to date has suffered from uneven engagement with diverse actors and research communities. We advocate a ‘pragmatic realist’ approach to policy engagement reflecting on examples of social policy engagement in the science–policy interface while also drawing on our own varied experiences of engaging with policymakers in relation to ALMPs.

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