Young people, individualism, and welfare conditionality over time

Rochow, Thomas (2023) Young people, individualism, and welfare conditionality over time. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Full text available as:
[thumbnail of 2023RochowPhD.pdf] PDF
Download (2MB)


Recent generations of young people in the UK have transitioned to adulthood during a period of insecure labour markets, unaffordable housing, welfare retrenchment, economic recessions, and the proliferation of self-help discourses. Young people who cannot rely on informal support are increasingly unlikely to realise the traditional cornerstones of adulthood: secure employment and owner-occupied housing. These markers of adulthood have been restructured and restricted for recent generations of young people. However, the market-orientated state enforces onus on the individual to realise a secure future.

Labour activation backed up by behavioural regulation is now ubiquitous in policy approaches which seek to address worklessness and poverty in advanced capitalist societies. Conditionality is fundamental to the design of contemporary social security systems, which operate on the basis that behavioural changes on an individual level can overcome structural barriers. The intensification of this policy trend is associated with the broader political obsession with long-range social mobility and the cultural fixation with self-improvement. Contemporary UK welfare policy encourages young people to psychologise structural problems and internalise the self-improvement discourse.

Self-improvement discourses and individualised futures have been particularly significant for recent generations of young people. Their transitions to adulthood have coincided with the explosion in the self-help mindset that challenges in life should be addressed, and aspirations realised, through adapting the individual. This rhetoric has been pedalled more readily through contemporary education systems, proliferating social media platforms, and influencer culture. The messaging appears empowering; those who have succeeded by neoliberal metrics provide those who are struggling in the contemporary labour market with the tools to supposedly unlock their potential. In practice however, this behaviourist framing of labour market outcomes can undermine structural inequalities and covertly maintain the existing social order by upholding the concept of a meritocracy.

This thesis explores young people’s experiences of contemporary conditional social security systems and how they navigate and respond to behavioural regulation, insecure employment, conditional housing pathways, and worklessness over time. The thesis employs secondary analysis of qualitative longitudinal data, of a youth (16-25) subsample comprised of 56 young people and 114 total interviews, drawn from the Welfare Conditionality Project (2013-2019), to investigate how young people who experience conditional social security systems make sense of the behavioural regulation and how they conceptualise pathways to their aspirations.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Urban Studies
Funder's Name: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Supervisor's Name: Wright, Professor Sharon and Wong, Dr. Mark
Date of Award: 2023
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2023-83969
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 01 Dec 2023 15:38
Last Modified: 05 Dec 2023 12:05
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.83969

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year