A hand up or a slap down? Criminalising benefit claimants in Britain via strategies of surveillance, sanctions and deterrence

FLETCHER, Del and WRIGHT, Sharon (2017). A hand up or a slap down? Criminalising benefit claimants in Britain via strategies of surveillance, sanctions and deterrence. Critical Social Policy, 38 (2), 323-344.

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Link to published version:: https://doi.org/10.1177/0261018317726622


British policy makers have increasingly sought to intensify and extend welfare conditionality. A distinctly more punitive turn was taken in 2012 to re-orientate the whole social security and employment services system to combine harsh sanctions with minimal mandatory support in order to prioritise moving individuals ‘off benefit and into work’ with the primary aim of reducing costs. This article questions the extent to which these changes can be explained by Wacquant’s (2009) theory of the ‘centaur state’ (a neoliberal head on an authoritarian body), which sees poverty criminalised via the advance of workfare. We present evidence of an authoritarian approach to unemployment, involving dramatic use of strategies of surveillance (via new paternalist tools like the Claimant Commitment and the Universal Jobmatch panopticon), sanction and deterrence. This shift has replaced job match support with mandatory digital self-help, coercion and punishment. In relation to Work Programme providers, there is a contrasting liberal approach permitting high discretion in service design. This article makes a significant original contribution to the field by demonstrating that Wacquant’s analysis of ‘workfare’ is broadly applicable to the British case and its reliance on a centralised model of state action is truer in the British case than the US. However, we establish that the character of British reform is somewhat different: less ‘new’ (challenging the time-tethered interpretation that welfare reform is a uniquely neo-liberal product of late 2 modernity) and more broadly applied to ‘core’ workers, including working class white men with earned entitlement, than peripheral workers.

Item Type: Article
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research
Identification Number: https://doi.org/10.1177/0261018317726622
Page Range: 323-344
Depositing User: Jill Hazard
Date Deposited: 04 Sep 2017 10:43
Last Modified: 18 Mar 2021 01:20
URI: https://shura.shu.ac.uk/id/eprint/16638

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