Are direct payments a form of activation policy?

Martin Stevens

by Martin Stevens

It was Jo Moriarty, a colleague here at SCWRU, who introduced me to the idea of labour activation, pointing out its relevance to Jobs First, the evaluation report of which I am just now drafting.

Is it right to see the Jobs First initiative as a labour activation policy in relation to people with learning disabilities? More than that, might the policy drive toward personalisation bear the imprint of an ‘activation ethos’?

Labour Activation Policies have a long history, at least back to the 16th Century, when those overseeing the poor were involved in ‘sending vagrants to work’ (Patrick, 2012:6). These days, we can talk about four key facets: increasing market involvement in providing services; individualisation or personalisation of response to each individual; integration of different forms of support (e.g. the merging of welfare benefit organisations and Job Centres into Jobcentre Plus); and an uneasy balance between coercion and support. This last is illustrated in the varying degree to which policies support people to get jobs that fit their qualifications and previous experience or apply pressure for people to take any job, to get off welfare benefits.

These topics were the focus of the Workshop on integrated employment and activation policies in a multilevel welfare system, in Milan at the end of August, where Jobs First had its first academic outing. The workshop aimed to explore facets of European Activation Policies, involving academic speakers from across Europe. One message from the Workshop was that some form of labour market activation had been almost universally accepted in Europe. Consequently, there are many kinds of interventions to support or coerce young people and unemployed people to get paid jobs.

Jobs First shares the first three elements of activation: an increased emphasis on using personal budgets to purchase supported employment services from independent sector organisations; an individualistic approach; and increased links between adult social care and Jobcentre Plus. However, there are no directly coercive elements, in relation to loss of benefits. Having said that, some participants referred to the reduction of public spending on support for leisure as creating pressure to get jobs.

Of perhaps wider interest in relation to social care is the application of activation to personalisation. Direct Payments can also be said to share three elements of activation policies. First, they create more reliance on markets and individualisation of service. Second, they put more responsibility on individuals and their families to manage their own support. Third, there are ongoing efforts at integration with health (e.g. the Personal Health Budgets project) or through combining funding streams (as is being trialled in the Right to Control, trailblazer sites). There is no direct analogue for coercion, although the government’s strong preference for direct payments, puts pressure on local agencies to increase their use. The key link is perhaps the focus on individuals to bear responsibility to be active co-producers of welfare. So is this a useful way to think about personalisation?

Patrick, R. (2012) ‘Work as the primary ‘duty’ of the responsible citizen: a critique of this work-centric approach’ People, Place and Policy Online 6(1), 5-15.

Dr Martin Stevens is Research Fellow at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s College London. With Jess Harris he is currently writing the final report for the evaluation of Jobs First (an initiative encouraging the employment of people with learning disabilities) for the Department of Health.