The welfare racket: conditionality and marketised activation in street-level welfare-to-work services

Kaufman, James (2018) The welfare racket: conditionality and marketised activation in street-level welfare-to-work services. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis investigates everyday encounters between benefit recipients and street-level welfare agencies in an era of behavioural conditionality, marketised ‘activation’, and neoliberal paternalism. Central to this thesis is a concern with the relational dynamics that policies of ‘behavioural conditionality’ and ‘mandatory activation’ produce, explored through reflexive analysis of the researcher’s own experiences as a street-level activation worker, and thirty in-depth interviews with former colleagues, other street-level staff, and benefit recipients. Informed by relational and psychosocial theorisations of both the subject and street-level welfare organisations, the thesis looks at the interactions between symbolic/ideological representation, individual agency, and street-level organisation. Arguing that attention to the dynamic, libidinal investments of street-level employees casts familiar street-level practices in a new light, the thesis draws attention to a dynamic of illusio-disillusionment (Bourdieu, 2000) among street-level staff, re-rendering familiar practices of ‘creaming and parking’ in terms of punishment and protection. Similarly, it is argued that specific instances of support, indifference, and/or sanction do not exist as discrete experiences in the life of claimants, but as ongoing possibilities, producing a situation of ever-present surveillance and threat. In this way, conditional activation services come to resemble a protection racket, in which both the threat and means of defence are produced simultaneously. These dynamic materialisations of behavioural conditionality are situated with respect to the ideology of neoliberal paternalism, which at street-level takes the form of magical voluntarism, and the enforcement of an anti-sociological imaginary which, it is argued, results in the denial and effective privatisation of the troubles, difficulties, and needs that bring people to welfare services in the first place.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Social policy, street-level bureaucracy, conditionality, active labour market policy, welfare-to-work, psychosocial studies, neoliberal paternalism, unemployment.
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Urban Studies
Supervisor's Name: Sharon, Dr. Wright
Date of Award: 2018
Depositing User: Dr James Kaufman
Unique ID: glathesis:2018-8853
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 21 Mar 2018 16:46
Last Modified: 23 Apr 2018 07:31

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