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A Job, Any Job : The UK Benefits System and Employment Services in an Age of Austerity

Nick Taylor
p. 267-285


This paper looks at the recent past of the benefits system and employment services in the UK and how they have operated through more than five years of austerity. The UK presents an interesting case, as the unemployment rate following the financial crisis has recovered faster than expected. The major reforms of welfare-to-work programmes and cuts to the public sector, together with continued labour market flexibility, have been identified as the source of this triumph. Yet behind this apparent success story is another picture. Many public employment service programmes in the UK were contracted out to private employment agencies following the Coalition Government’s 2011 reforms. A much more restrictive and punitive benefits system and an emphasis on pushing people into work, whatever its quality or stability, has driven the rise of precarious and part-time employment.

It is an important time to take stock of the effects of continued austerity and public sector job cuts, as well as the extreme shift to a deterrent model of benefit provision. Using the UK context, we might question what makes for a ‘successful’ story on job creation and what kind of social toll there is to advocating “a job, any job” through the benefits and employment services systems. In particular, I suggest that by paying attention to the experience of those who use the benefits and employment services systems, we might learn about the effects of austerity and welfare reform on public services in a more meaningful way.

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Ce document sera publié en ligne en texte intégral en juin 2018.


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In a report on the UK published in July 2016, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights noted a number of deep concerns it had with reforms that had been made to the social security system. It cited: changes in entitlement and cuts to benefits; the benefit cap, which limits the total amount in benefits people of working age can receive; the removal of the spare room subsidy (or ‘bedroom tax’ as it is more commonly known); the four-year freeze on particular benefits; and the extensive use of benefit sanctions, which highlighted issues of an “absence of due process” and “access to justice for those affected.”

The nature of these concerns stand in contrast to the often triumphant tone of the body charged with overseeing social security and employment services policy in the UK, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). That same month, they announced another ‘record’ set of employment figures and an unemployment rate of 4.9%, down from its peak o...

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Référence papier

Nick Taylor, « A Job, Any Job : The UK Benefits System and Employment Services in an Age of Austerity », Observatoire de la société britannique, 19 | 2017, 267-285.

Référence électronique

Nick Taylor, « A Job, Any Job : The UK Benefits System and Employment Services in an Age of Austerity », Observatoire de la société britannique [En ligne], 19 | 2017, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2018, consulté le 21 mars 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/osb.1965

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Nick Taylor

Research fellow au département de science politique à l'Université de Londres

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Observatoire de la société britannique

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