From welfare to warfare: class struggle on the margins

REDMAN, Jamie (2020). From welfare to warfare: class struggle on the margins. Doctoral, Sheffield Hallam University.

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Since the mid-1980s, UK welfare reform has seen policymakers incrementally re-design the framing, structure and delivery of the UK’s social security system. Britain’s network of benefit administration and employment service offices have experienced a range of expenditure cuts and are increasingly governed by a new ‘workfarist’ mesh of behavioural conditionality and labour market activation policy. The overarching purpose of this, or at least according to a number of key politicians, has been to ensure labour market discipline among the UK’s out-of-work claiming population by transforming the social security system into a device for altering behaviour. In recent decades, a number of critical interpretations of welfare reform have emerged; two of which have been dominant above all others. One interpretation—heavily influenced by Marxist regulation theory—suggests that welfare reform has emerged as a logical social policy compliment to wider processes of labour market restructuring and a rise in low-paying, contingent ‘jobs that nobody wants’. This interpretation suggests that the services tasked with delivering welfare reform are experienced as sites of discipline and deterrence; ensuring that out-of-work claimants engage with unattractive jobs. A second interpretation—evolving partially out of regulation theory but significantly developed and heavily influenced by Wacquant—suggests that welfare reform has emerged as one part of a dual regulatory response to manage a surge in social unrest and urban marginality. This interpretation suggests that the services tasked with delivering welfare reform are experienced as sites of criminalisation and suffering in order to correct behavioural dysfunction and bend out-of-work claimants towards dependency on low-wage, precarious work. The present thesis offers an alternative interpretation. It is suggested here that UK welfare reform has emerged in response to an accumulation of working class struggles. Drawing on longitudinal interviews with 15 young male claimants and 11 interviews with frontline benefit administration/employment service workers, it is also suggested here that the services tasked with delivering welfare reform are experienced as sites of class struggle. On one side of the desk, frontline workers operate in pressured conditions to probe for claimant resistance, ensure work-related compliance and, in some instances, antagonise claimants in efforts to secure their resignation from benefit receipt. Whilst, on the other side of the desk, claimants use a range of methods to struggle against and subvert frontline service delivery in favour of prioritising their own individual needs and interests.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Thesis advisor - Fletcher, Del [0000-0002-9569-3203]
Additional Information: Director of studies: Del Roy Fletcher "No PQ harvesting"
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Sheffield Hallam Doctoral Theses
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Depositing User: Colin Knott
Date Deposited: 10 Feb 2021 17:09
Last Modified: 03 May 2023 02:05

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