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

Fletcher, D. R. and Wright, S. (2018) A hand up or a slap down? Criminalising benefit claimants in Britain via strategies of surveillance, sanctions and deterrence. Critical Social Policy, 38(2), pp. 323-344. (doi: 10.1177/0261018317726622)

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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 neoliberal product of late modernity) and more broadly applied to ‘core’ workers, including working-class white men with earned entitlement, rather than peripheral workers.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Wright, Professor Sharon
Authors: Fletcher, D. R., and Wright, S.
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Urban Studies
Journal Name:Critical Social Policy
Publisher:SAGE Publications
ISSN (Online):1461-703X
Published Online:31 August 2017
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2017 The Authors
First Published:First published in Critical Social Policy 38(2): 323-344
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons License

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