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Author: Sharon Wright

Having their roots in the welfare to work policies of the USA and being embraced more recently by European member states, active labour market policies have become increasingly popular. A widespread trend towards active labour market policies as a response to unemployment has been identified (e.g. Clasen 1999). Ofien, the impact of these policies have been evaluated at a macro level. By contrast, with the premise that ‘policies cannot be understood in isolation fiom the means of their execution’ (Elmore 1978:185), this chapter provides a micro-level analysis. The emphasis is on how decision-making and service delivery are accomplished in practice, by individuals and through social processes.

Active labour market policies are implemented by front-line staff through their interactions with clients. Accordingly, the chapter adopts a street-level bureaucracy perspective and is based on ethnographic research consisting of direct observation during 74 visits to one Jobcentre in the UK and on an analysis of interviews between staff and clients, informal interviews with 48 members of staff and semi-structured interviews with 35 unemployed people1. Documents such as staff guidance materials were also analysed. In the first part of the chapter, issues of policy implementation will be outlined and the pressures which front-line Jobcentre staff experience will be discussed. This is followed by three examples which demonstrate some of the ways in which Employment Officers re-create official policy. The fvst example demonstrates how front-line staff develop routines to deal with the pressures which fortnightly ‘Signing On’ interviews present. The second illustrates how staff reacted to a new policy, the New Deal for 18-24 year olds, and the third highlights the way staff behaviour was modified in response to performance targets for job placements.

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Author: Sharon Wright

This chapter aims to provide a microlevel analysis of the unemployment policy that assesses the significance, extent, and character of change. This analysis uses the perspectives of frontline staff and unemployed service users as a basis. The chapter is composed of two main parts. The first part focuses on the changes, based on the perspective of frontline staff. It is focused on how the changes in the late 1990s affected them in their daily work with service users. The second part considers reform from the perspective of unemployed users, and is focused on the language shift via the formal redefinition of welfare subjects such as ‘customers’.

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Authors: Peter Dwyer and Sharon Wright

Between 2013 and 2017 Universal Credit replaces six means-tested working age benefits. Backed by a punitive system of tiered sanctions and fines, Universal Credit represents a major expansion and intensification of personalised behavioural conditionality and indicates the ubiquity of conditionality at the heart of twenty-first century UK social citizenship.

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Work is intriguing in its capacity to mean everything and yet nothing. Nothing in as much as it is an unremarkable part of everyday life for the majority of people and everything for its centrality to our existence in capitalist societies. It is the very mundanity of work that belies its significance.1 Work has the capacity to offer a source of identity and an arena to construct and enact social relations and roles. More than that, the extent to which work is exchanged for money (if at all and whether this is adequate, fair or extravagant) reflects important messages about status in relation to what and whose activities are valued by wider society. For many people, paid work is a necessity. For these reasons, work holds powerful meanings (Svendsen, 2008). Interpreting whether paid employment signifies alienation, oppression or empowerment depends on crucial questions about how it is structured and the conditions within which choices are made and the ways in which working interacts with aspects of personal and collective well-being (see Edgell, 2006; Strangleman and Warren, 2008).

It is perhaps because paid work is so central to social life in contemporary Scotland that it is so controversial to be without it. The public imagination is captivated by condemnatory reports of the so-called ‘benefit dependency’ of those who are currently out of work. Influential public figures like Iain Duncan Smith (UK Secretary of State for Work and Pensions) and Prime Minister David Cameron have sought popular political support by exploiting the stereotypical image of the workshy ‘Shettleston Man’ as a metaphor for ‘Broken Scotland’ (Smith, 2008; Mooney and Wright, 2011), implying at once that people in Scotland are insufficiently motivated for paid employment and that this is the source of deep and enduring social problems such as poverty and health inequalities.

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Moving disabled people ‘off benefits and into work’ has been an explicit aim of work-first welfare reform since 2008, increasingly punitively since 2010. The aim of this article is to demonstrate, for the first time, how Universal Credit (UC) fits with and intensifies that strategy. Empirical data from 28 in-depth interviews with 19 claimants (nine were interviewed twice) and three focus groups with 23 Jobcentre staff show how UC full service applies mainstream job search conditionality to people with mental health problems. Ongoing fear of sanctions, financial hardship, surveillance and social isolation relating to digital design had adverse impacts, including for those without previous mental health problems.

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