Academic journal article Capital & Class

'Personalised Conditionality': Observations on Active Proletarianisation in Late Modern Britain

Academic journal article Capital & Class

'Personalised Conditionality': Observations on Active Proletarianisation in Late Modern Britain

Article excerpt


This paper is concerned with the idea of 'personalised conditionality', part of social security policy that it has been argued seeks to ensure that what is demanded of workless working-age claimants in attempting to secure paid employment takes account of their individual situation--an approach in benefit policy that does not treat claimants according to 'the benefit that they were on or the group they are in' (Gregg, 2008: 84), but is 'tailored to the individual and meet[ing] their circumstances and needs' (2008:13). The paper focuses on this issue by examining the idea of 'personalised conditionality' in the work of its main architect, Gregg (2008), and the even more recent thoughts of the Coalition government on the need for a personalised regime of conditionality, which is reflected in the pathways through its flagship policy, the Work Programme (itself a development of the previous Labour government's Flexible New Deal). For the Coalition government, the Work Programme 'represents a step change for Welfare to Work ... creating a structure that treats people as individuals and allows providers greater freedom to tailor the right support to the individual needs of each customer' (Department for Work and Pensions, 2012).

There is a growing body of literature focusing upon work-related conditionality. The work of Griggs and Evans (2010) points to both the impact and contextual studies of it. In the case of the former, studies have examined the effects of conditionality on labour markets and participation in them (for example, Lee et al., 2004; Peck, 2007; Wu, 2008) and the effects of sanctions upon child welfare (for instance, Paxson and Waldfogel, 2003). In the case of contextual studies, research has focused on subjects that include claimant knowledge and awareness of sanctions (for example, Dorsett, 2008; Goodwin, 2008; Joyce and Whiting, 2006; Legard et al., 1998; Peters and Joyce, 2006; Smith, 1998) and administrative issues in sanctioning, including studies of the characteristics of those who are subjected to it (Cheng, 2009; Fein and Lee, 1999; Kalil et al.; 2002, Meyers et al.; 2006, Pavetti et al.; 2003, Schram et al., 2009). In addition, there is a body of literature (for example, Deacon, 2004; Dwyer, 2004; Fitzpatrick, 2005) that examines the philosophical basis for mandating claimants to do certain things in return for state-sponsored benefits and services.

This literature is important in understanding conditionality because it points to the individual and socio-economic impacts of it, as well as more abstracted issues that attempt to understand justifications of why access to social welfare benefits might be accompanied by demands made of their recipients. However, the literature is limited because although much of it is or could be related to the strategic concerns and needs of capitalism--for instance, the constitution of low-wage, casualised labour markets and workers--it is not conceptualised in such a way. In contrast, any problems with conditionality are conceptualised as being of an administrative and technical nature that with some tweaking can be rectified. Such an approach, however, is flawed, because no matter how much 'tweaking' of this kind is done, the economic imperatives, framed by the needs of capital, are never questioned. In contrast, in this paper we focus upon the most recent explication--'personalised conditionality'--of conditionality as a means of the active proletarianisation (Offe, 1984).

Active proletarianisation: a historical legacy of disciplining workless people

Nature does not produce on the one side owners of money or commodities, and on the other men possessing nothing but their own labour-power. This relation has no natural basis ... It is dearly the result of a past historical development, the product of many economic revolutions, of the extinction of a whole series of older forms of social organisation. (Marx, 1974: 166)

These observations of Marx led Novak (1988: 29) to conclude that there is 'nothing "natural" or inevitable about wage labour, although much effort has gone into making it appear as such'. …

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