Welfare to work, welfare dynamics and uncertainty

Author: Andreas Cebulla

Cebulla, Andreas, 2016 Welfare to work, welfare dynamics and uncertainty, Flinders University, School of Social and Policy Studies

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The publications in this thesis combine economic and social research in three principal areas:

(a) the evaluation of welfare activation programs; (b) the study of welfare dynamics and (c) the

study of intergenerational changes in labour market transitions.

Activation programs, such as job search initiatives, have come to define public policy in the last

three decades. The aim of bringing together the three research areas is to reflect on activation

in light of empirical evidence of increasingly fragmented personal biographies. This

fragmentation, itself associated with more diverse labour market opportunities, choices and

experiences, challenges notions of universal programmatic solutions to unemployment and

social need.

Welfare activation signalled not only the emergence of a new social and economic policy

paradigm, but also a resurgence of an understanding of human behaviour as innately deviant,

yet also deeply rational. This understanding assumed that providing welfare had unintended

behavioural consequences, as individuals, in a rather calculated manner, chose to become

‘welfare dependent’. Such behaviour threatened to undermine or negate public policy. In the

view of public authorities and the academic community, this called for new behaviourist

interventions, which, in welfare policy, resulted in the increased conditionality of welfare


In sociology, the debate about the rationality of human behaviour ensued in the shadow of an

emerging sociology of risk (Beck 1992, Giddens 1998). Intellectual debate about the

relationship between societal structure and individual agency (Archer 2003) questioned the

extent to which an individual can have agency (is ‘free’) to negotiate structural obstacles. The

answer to this empirical question affects our comprehension of the scope for welfare

activation, as the latter builds on personal capabilities that can only be assumed to the extent

that agency is empirically validated and practically facilitated (Sen 1985).

With respect to activation policy, the publications in this thesis review the impact of activation

policies in the United Kingdom and the USA. The objective of that research is to determine the

effectiveness of the new, activating social policy in increasing employment and reducing

welfare receipts. The studies find often small, but typically statistically significant impacts of

welfare activation programs in the US and the UK. They also highlight variations in impacts

between populations and effects of local environmental factors, such as unemployment rates.

With respect to the study of social dynamics, the publications’ objective is to ascertain the

extent to which welfare dependency is a fixed state rather than in flux, and to understand the


perceptions and welfare experiences of a particularly marginalised group of people who (need

to) rely on welfare: substance users. The studies find that people churn between welfare

statuses; substance users display an optimistic determination to return to work.

On intergenerational change in labour market transitions, the studies’ objective is to examine

how transitions from education in work have changed in the last half century. They also seek

empirically to assess the validity of the thesis of risk society theory of escalating uncertainty.

The emerging evidence supports the uncertainty thesis; the evidence shows that achieving job

aspirations has become more difficult.

The findings’ relevance to constructing an ‘enabling’ welfare system, which incorporates

labour market activation as a positive, rights-based facilitator, is discussed in a concluding

section on future research directions.

Keywords: welfare to work, youth, labour markets, risk, uncertainty, social exclusion

Subject: Social Work thesis, Policy and Administration thesis, Social Administration thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2016
School: School of Social and Policy Studies
Supervisor: Gerry Redmond