social policy

Bringing labour back In: class antagonism, labour agency and Britain’s active labour market reforms

Dr Jay Wiggan


Since the 1980s Britain has constructed a ‘work first activation state’. Through various employment programmes, curtailment of benefit entitlement, strengthening of sanctions and work related activity attached to (non-employed) working-age benefits the state has cajoled claimants into employment as quickly as possible. The study draws on an innovative political theory rarely utilised in social policy, Autonomist Marxism, to challenge existing top down accounts of Britain’s transformation of social security and employment policy. These typically ground explanations in electoral positioning (tough on welfare), ideas (neo-liberalism) or functionalist logic (necessary for UK growth model). In contrast here we focus attention on how labour market ‘activation’ reforms are rooted in antagonistic class relations through the novel ‘bottom up’ autonomist thesis that positions labour as the motor of change and policy innovation.

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