This article considers two contrasting approaches to reforming public services in order to meet the needs of people living in poverty. The first approach is top-down, involves categorising individuals (as ‘hard to help’, ‘at risk’, etc) and invokes scientific backing for justification. The second approach is bottom-up, emancipatory, relates to people as individuals and treats people who have experience of poverty and social exclusion as experts. The article examines each approach through providing brief examples in the fields of unemployment and parenting policy – two fields that have been central to theories of ‘cycles of deprivation’. It is suggested here that the two approaches differ in terms of their scale, type of user involvement and type of evidence that is used for their legitimation. While the article suggests that direct comparison between the two approaches is difficult, it highlights the prevalence of top-down approaches towards services for people living in poverty, despite increasing support for bottom-up approaches in other policy areas.
This article is based on research carried out before the publication of the Gregg report, Realising potential (Gregg, 2008), and (of course) before the election of the Conservative- Liberal Democrat coalition and its proposals for additional, significant, welfare policy reform.
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