Voluntary unemployment and the UK social policy literature

Dunn, Andrew (2014) Voluntary unemployment and the UK social policy literature. Economic Affairs, 34 (1). pp. 85-91. ISSN 0265-0665

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The British coalition government's Work Programme is the latest manifestation of a trend dating back to the 1980s, whereby the claiming of unemployment benefit (now to be called Universal Credit, formerly Jobseeker's Allowance) has become contingent upon meeting more and more conditions, while the benefit sanctions facing those who do not comply have become stiffer and stiffer. Underpinning these policies is mainstream politicians' belief that many would rather live on benefits than enter employment. Indeed, both Iain Duncan Smith (2010), the present UK Social Security Minister, and John Hutton (2006), one of his recent Labour predecessors, have openly endorsed this view. But are they correct? According to academic research, which has largely taken place within the discipline of social policy, the answer is clearly ‘no’. In fact, a substantial empirical literature has repeatedly concluded that unemployed benefit claimants possess the same work values as everyone else and that the vast majority both want paid work and actively search for it.

In this discussion piece I critically review this UK social policy literature on unemployment. I argue that, in an academic discipline dominated by the political left, mainstream authors have routinely failed to respond to important points raised mainly by conservatives about unemployed people's attitudes to employment and their job search behaviour. In particular, I suggest that these mainstream authors have failed properly to investigate whether individuals could do more to avoid living on unemployment benefits, and that they have overlooked the views of people who have considerable experience dealing with unemployed welfare claimants. I start by discussing the mainstream ‘quasi-Titmuss’ school in UK social policy, before examining in detail a notable recent example of that school's literature. This is the book Poverty and Insecurity: Life in ‘Low Pay, No Pay’ Britain (Shildrick et al. 2012). While this book does include interviews with employers and people employed in the welfare-to-work industry, it nevertheless draws firm conclusions that are clearly contradicted by what these respondents said.

Keywords:voluntary unemployment, social policy, work attitudes, welfare claimants, JCNotOpen
Subjects:L Social studies > L410 UK Social Policy
Divisions:College of Social Science > School of Social & Political Sciences
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ID Code:12557
Deposited On:18 Nov 2013 16:19

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