Swimming against the tide? Street level bureaucrats and the limits to inclusive active labour market programmes in the UK

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Through a dynamic analysis of the interplay between structure and agency, this article explores the factors shaping an inclusive approach to labour market activation for clients with multiple barriers to work. While previous studies argue that ‘street level bureaucrats’ (SLBs), such as advisors and job coaches, have minimal agency to shape the services they deliver, the pilot programme that is the focus of this article allowed SLBs greater discretion to support clients, and to use their entrepreneurial skills to build relationships with local employers. However, the unresolved tension between personalisation and swift labour market insertion meant that SLBs often defaulted to engrained employability interventions that prepared clients to compete for low-wage entry level jobs. We argue that the ‘policy closure’ around a work-first model of activation in the UK constrains social innovation among SLBs, and limits the freedoms of citizens to navigate their own transitions into the labour market.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
JournalHuman Relations
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 13 Jul 2021