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Department of Geography


The Geography of Workfare: Local Labour Markets and the New Deal

The move towards workfare policies represents a fundamental change in the welfare states and labour markets of many industrialised countries. Such a shift represents a process of activation in which the receipt of benefits and assistance by the unemployed are made conditional on the active fulfilment of job search and other work-focused obligations. Across the industrial world, politicians are identifying such policies as the solution to the entrenched problems of worklessness that have plagued their economies during the last few decades. Within Western Europe the UK has lead the way in the adoption of workfare, and the New Deal for Young People has been at the forefront. Buoyed by favourable national economic conditions since 1998, this flagship New Deal Programme has been held up as a model to be emulated. While it has received much abstract and aggregate attention, and it has officially been declared a success, there has been relatively little research into the uneven geography of this Programme and the other New Deals. The aim of this ESRC-funded research project (Grant R000237866), undertaken jointly with Professor Peter Sunley (Southampton) is to explore and understand how these active policies have had quite different challenges and impacts in different local and regional labour markets.

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How far have local flexibility and policy decentralisation allowed the New Deal to address dramatic differences in local labour market contexts? Despite the complexity of local outcomes, our research argues that the spatial variation in the New Deal tells a clear and systematic story in which the policy typically works more effectively in more dynamic and tighter local labour markets. The geography of non-work is not a problem that has been virtually eliminated. Instead, the limitations and imbalance ofsupply-side active labour market policies, focused on raising individual employability, are most apparent in distressed local labour where there is less opportunity to find rewarding and stable job opportunities. Our research discusses some of the implications of this finding for the idea of a new contract between unemployed individuals and the state. It outlines some of ways in which the local responsiveness of the policy could be improved, and some of the possible means of raising the demand for labour in depressed local areas. The need to do so remains pressing.


Publications arising from this project include:

  1. Mapping the New Deal: Local Disparities in the Performance of Welfare-to-Work, (with P. Sunley and C Nativel), Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, NS, 26,4, pp.484-512 (2001)
  2. Localising Welfare to Work? Territorial Flexibility and the New Deal for Young People, (with P. Sunley and C Nativel), Environment and Planning, A, 20, pp. 911-932 (2002)
  3. The Local Impact of the New Deal: Does Geography Make a Difference? (with P. Sunley and C Nativel), Ch. 8 in Local Labour Markets: Processes, Problems and Policies (Joint Editor with P. Morrison) London: Routledge, pp. 175-207 (2003)
  4. Putting Workfare in Place: Local Labour Markets and the New Deal (with P. Sunley and C Nativel), Blackwell (2005)