Quantity over quality: a political economy of ‘active labour market policy’ in the UK

Academic journal article in Policy Studies on the relationship between the UK growth model and the coalition government’s active labour market policy.

This article offers a critical evaluation of recent ‘active labour market policy’ (ALMP) initiatives in the UK, focusing on the coalition government’s Work Programme and its immediate antecedents. ALMP exemplifies a supply-side employment strategy, reorienting the state away from supporting labour demand and towards promoting the ‘employability’ of individuals within existing labour market structures. The article locates the rationale for this policy agenda within the wider politics of economic growth. Belying its status as a pioneer of ALMP, the UK spends very little on supply-side labour market interventions relative to other European countries. This can be explained with reference to the type of ALMP interventions prioritised in the UK, which in turn is explained by the growth model that ALMP is designed to sustain. The UK’s growth model requires an abundance of low-paid jobs in the labour-intense and volatile services sector. Ostensibly, ALMP fulfils this requirement by ensuring that individuals are immediately available for work, marginalising concerns about pay and job quality. Moreover, ALMP also serves to inculcate the desirability of certain behaviours at the individual level. The coalition government’s approach demonstrates an intensification rather than transformation of previous practice, indicative of its support for resurrecting the UK’s pre-crisis growth model.

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