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Why our fixation on the employment rate masks a more harmful truth

Lloyd Anthony pic

Anthony Lloyd

The latest round of employment figures were recently released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS, 2019).  In it, the number of people in work reached a record high (32.54 million) between September – November 2018.  Furthermore, average earnings increased by 3.3%, the number of vacancies increased, and unemployment is at its lowest level since the early 1970s.  All cause for celebration.

Employment Minister Alok Sharma announced “Our pro-business policies have helped boost private sector employment by 3.8 million since 2010, and as the Resolution Foundation’s latest report shows, the ‘jobs-boom has helped some of the most disadvantaged groups find employment’, providing opportunities across society.” (BBC, 2019).  Surely, reasons to be cheerful in these turbulent times? However, we need to ask a number of critical questions about the real state of UK labour markets and the realities (and harms) associated with “employment”.

First, how accurate is the Labour Force Survey?  Our current fixation on low unemployment is a statistical construction easily rejected on closer inspection.  This sample survey of 100,000 responses categorises employment as working over one hour a week, and unemployment as actively seeking work in the past four weeks and available to start in the next two weeks.  From a low bar to one much higher.  Second, what are the conditions within work?  We clearly have no difficulty in creating jobs (or characterising forms of activity as ‘employment’) but it tells us nothing about the lived reality of (in)stability, (in)security, and experiences of work.

“We may have, statistically speaking, more people in jobs than any time in the last four decades, but there are problematic and harmful realities at play”

In my recent book, The Harms of Work: An Ultra-Realist Account of the Service Economy (Bristol University Press), I consider the reality of life in the insecure, flexible and low-paid service economy.  I observe workplaces and interview employees engaged in retail, call centres, leisure, takeaways, bar work, delivery jobs and other forms of customer-facing roles.  I examine the historical shifts in UK labour markets over recent decades to demonstrate a thorough neoliberal restructuring of working life, away from stability and security, towards competition, flexibility and profitability.  I also utilise emerging theories within ultra-realist criminology and social harm to consider the more problematic aspects of this fundamental transformation.  We may have, statistically speaking, more people in jobs than any time in the last four decades, but there are problematic and harmful realities at play in low-paid service work that are overlooked by positive employment figures.

These problems (and harms) include an absence of stability. Temporary, precarious forms of ‘non-standard’ work include zero-hour contracts and the ‘gig economy’.  Power and flexibility rest with employers, not employees, while workers struggle to plan for the week ahead, devoid of solid grounding upon which to build a life.

“Power and flexibility rest with employers, not employees, while workers struggle to plan for the week ahead, devoid of solid grounding upon which to build a life.”

There is also an absence of protection. Illegal practices such as non-payment of the mandated National Minimum Wage and unpaid ‘work trials’ exploit service economy employees.  The absence of protection also extends to mental ill health as overworked, precarious and stressed employees struggle to get by yet often shoulder the responsibility personally; if only they worked harder, if only they were less ambitious or more realistic, things would not be so bad.

Finally, the absence of ethical responsibility for each other creates problems and harms.  Management bullying, workplace cliques and the active exploitation or sabotage of colleagues pervades organisational cultures built on the neoliberal logic of competition, individualism, entitlement and display. Social relations within a competitive culture and competitive work environments increasingly reflect post-social arrangements and lead to harmful consequences.

I frame much of this behaviour and observation around a notion of ‘social harm’. That’s the prevention of recognition, positive rights and human flourishing caused by the intended and unintended consequences of the normal functioning of consumer capitalism. This system, following its own logic, reshapes organisations, cultures and subjectivities and generates a series of problematic and harmful consequences. Looking at the reality of contemporary working life and labour markets is vital; it’s no longer acceptable to continue celebrating the employment figures and the reduction in unemployment when the reality of the workplaces in which the majority of people are engaged produce such deleterious and damaging consequences.

The harms of work [FC]The Harms of Work by Anthony Lloyd is available on the Bristol University Press website. Order here for £64.00 or get the EPUB for £21.59.

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Policy Press here.

Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – sign up here. Please note that only one discount code can be used at a time.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

A quiet responsibility: how mothers manage the complexities of flexible working

Zoe Young.jpg

Zoe Young

This International Women’s Day, Zoe Young, author of Women’s Work: How Mothers Manage Flexible Working in Careers and Family Life, highlights the lengths women go to in managing the complexities of flexible working.

This year marks a hundred years since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 lifted the bar on women entering the professions. It meant women could no longer be kept out of rewarding careers in law, accounting, engineering, finance, medicine, and academia.

On IWD 2019 with its theme of #balanceforbetter we are asking what now needs to happen to help women stay and move up in the jobs that 100 years ago only men could do? My research published in Women’s Work in this milestone year has some answers.

Women’s Work lifts the lid on 30 professional women’s home and work lives in a year of working flexibly. They are highly educated, experienced women who have not yet reached the top of their firms. They are mothers and adjusting their jobs to something flexible in hours, schedule or location of work. The impressive resilience required to go part-time, to job share and to work from home in jobs that weren’t designed with these working models in mind are brought to life with vivid personal stories.

Jane, a senior manager and lone mother of two children cuts her full-time hours by one day a week to reduce her work-life stress; Emma, seeks “a bit of slack in the system” by carving out two half days a week to cover a gap in childcare for her youngest; Jenny a civil servant returns from first maternity leave and compresses a full-time job into fewer days; Andrea a lawyer and married mother of three children starts a new four-week job; and Esther, is a mother of two and, one half of the first and only job-share partnership at her level in her organisation’s history.

“They go to great lengths to implement their adjusted work pattern in ways that safeguard their continued inclusion in the workplace”

What all thirty women have in common is the terrific responsibility they feel to make their new way of working a success. They go to great lengths to implement their adjusted work pattern in ways that safeguard their continued inclusion in the workplace.

As Erin, a part-time finance manager said, “I think it is my responsibility to make it work”. I describe that responsibility as a quiet one, meaning that it is not questioned and just accepted. Because working flexibly is a departure from the norm and an apparently voluntary choice, it is the individual’s responsibility – not the organisation’s – to redesign the job, to adjust the workload, and to participate fully in organisational life without burdening others or disrupting the usual ways of doing things.

These women are fatigued by working flexibly in inflexible work environments. The effort required to continuously craft a job to make it fit with the time available; working intensively to get through an unadjusted workload faster, as well as performing well and positioning for advancement; avoiding stigma and motherhood penalties – the pernicious associations between women’s working hours and their commitment to their careers.

Summed up by one male boss who said to Esther “I might be a dinosaur but can you stop telling people you’re a job share because they’ll think you’re a bit rubbish”. All of these pressures add up to a significant mental load.

“a systemic inattention to how we work and what needs to happen to make jobs genuinely flexible”

These women are not unique. Their experiences resonate with my work as a business consultant. The complexities they navigated and the problems they experienced bending to fit inflexible organisational structures and cultures highlights a systemic inattention to how we work and what needs to happen to make jobs genuinely flexible. Not addressing the structures and cultures that hold women back is equally bad for women’s progress and for modern workplaces.

Twenty-first century women have had to adapt to working models designed by and for twentieth century men at times when women were excluded from the professional workplace. They have done it well so far.

But if women continue to make up the majority of flexible workers and the burden for making flexibility work in practice is loaded on the individual and is not at least shared by the organisation, then equality and #balanceforbetter will remain out of reach for future generations of professional women.


Dr Zoe Young is a sociologist, writer and consultant.

Her fresh take on a flexible future of work drives her consultancy practice Half the Sky, where she helps organisations tackle the structural and cultural barriers that hold women back at work.

Her academic work focuses on gender, work and organisation, with particular focus on how motherhood impact women’s lives and careers. She completed her PhD at the University of Sussex.

Prior to this she worked in HR and management consultancy for many years. Her book Women’s Work: how mothers manage flexible working in careers and family life lifts the lid on women’s work-life experiences today in the jobs that 100 years ago only men could do. It is published by social purpose publisher Bristol University Press.

Womens work [FC]Women’s Work by Zoe Young is available on the Bristol University Press website. Order here for £19.99.

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Policy Press here.

Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – sign up here. Please note that only one discount code can be used at a time.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Why we are proud to be part of academic publishing #AcBookWeek

Victoria Pittman.jpg

Victoria Pittman

This Academic Book Week, and ten months after the publication of the first Bristol University Press title, Victoria Pittman, our Head of Commissioning, looks back over the year, showcasing our lists so far and explaining why we’re proud and privileged to be part of the academic publishing world.

“Although I read my share of academic books during my own time at university, it wasn’t until I worked in academic publishing that I really appreciated the huge variety and importance of these books, and what goes into creating them. Academic Book Week is a great opportunity to celebrate their contribution and at BUP we are excited to be part of a conversation which celebrates the diversity, innovation and influence of academic books.

It’s a little under a year since BUP launched, building on the success of Policy Press and expanding our range of titles across new subject areas, authors and audiences in the social sciences and aligned disciplines. Publishing books which are of the highest academic quality, we work with internationally recognised experts and it has been a fantastic year so far. We feel proud to be a University Press that academics trust to publish their important research.

Feature Montage

Our first titles have ranged from those which launched new series such as The Politics of Compassion: Immigration and Asylum Policy by Ala Sirriyeh which was the first tile in the Global Migration and Social Change series, to accessible and topical books like Amitai Etzioni’s Law and Society in a Populist Age: Balancing Individual Rights and the Common Good.

A number of monographs across the lists show the range of subject areas we cover:

Across our Shorts (books between 30-50,000 words), we have published titles which provide the latest cutting-edge or topical research findings, including Prison Suicide: What Happens Afterwards? by Philippa Tomczak and Making Waves Behind Bars: The Prison Radio Association by Charlotte Bedford.

Other titles like The Lies We Were Told: Politics, Economics, Austerity and Brexit by Simon Wren-Lewis, a Prose award finalist, have been reviewed as important and influential with Paul Krugman writing in the preface: ‘This is a book you should read, for understanding what went wrong in the past is our only hope of doing better in the future’.

Creating this impact is fundamental to our mission. The titles above, and the many others I could mention, show the huge value of academic book publishing in bringing essential research evidence and insights to a wider audience, joining debates and influencing policymakers.

To support this, we produce policy briefings for government, such as this one for Whose Government is It? The Renewal of State-Citizen Cooperation by Henry Tam. Media coverage, such as this piece in the Independent adapted from Who are Universities For? Re-making Higher Education by Tom Sperlinger, Josie McLellan and Richard Pettigrew, makes academic research relevant and increases its capacity to create change.

In short, this is a wonderful industry to be part of and one we hope continues to thrive.


Catalogue Spring 19

Visit our website to find out more about our new and forthcoming books and journals, as well as others from our imprint Policy Press and other news about our publishing.

Our spring catalogue is out now. Download a pdf here.


The subversion of democracy


Henry Tam

Bristol University Press talks to Henry Tam, a leading expert on the threats against democracy and what should be done to counter them.  In addition to his academic work as a political theorist, he was in charge of the Labour government’s policies for civil renewal and community empowerment in the 2000s.

Henry’s new book Whose Government Is It? is out today.

BUP: More and more we hear that leaving people to vote with little understanding of the key issues is a recipe for disasters. Brexit, Trump, the resurgence of the far right – how worried should we be?

HT: There is something rotten indeed with the state of our democracy.  Instead of ensuring people’s informed views and concerns are taken into account by those who govern on their behalf, democracy has been subverted by the use of private wealth and large-scale deception to skew political decisions.  If we allow it to continue, we will keep sliding ever closer towards arbitrary rule.

BUP: But isn’t it true that most people are not interested in politics and they don’t want to be involved with the business of government?

HT: People are not interested in petty party-political squabbles, but very few can be indifferent about how their lives are affected by what those with ruling power may or may not do.

For the last 50 years, around a third or more of adults in the UK and the US have not bothered to vote in elections, because they believed it would not make any difference. Among those who vote, an increasing number are unsure if they can trust politicians, while there is an alarming trend over the last decade with people supporting demagogues who want to impose solutions and do away with public accountability.  We have seen those siding with the radical right winning support in elections and referendums across Europe and America.  And they will use and abuse the power they get to advance their own agenda regardless of the harm it brings to others.

BUP: So what can be done?  Are we to stop people voting for certain groups or policies, and wouldn’t that be anti-democratic itself?

HT: Democracy is not the same as letting people do whatever they want. It is a system for enabling people to cooperate in reaching informed decisions about what should be done collectively for their common good. As long as we allow democracy to be stripped of its true meaning, we leave the door wide open for it to be subverted.

There are a number of actions that need to be taken urgently.  As I set out in my book, Time to Save Democracy, we must have a comprehensive set of reforms that will ensure the minimum conditions for the functioning of democracy are adequately met.  These cover the nine strategic areas of:

Shared Mission: To develop common objectives and cultivate solidarity;

Mutual Respect: To tackle the spread of discriminatory behaviour;

Coherent Membership: To clarify terms of citizenship and strengthen people’s sense of belonging;

Collaborative Learning: To raise understanding of what objective enquiry entails;

Critical Re-examination: To counter dogmatism and support open scrutiny of claims;

Responsible Communication: To stem the flow of misinformation and promote fact-based discussions;

Participatory Decision-Making: To enable people to shape the decisions that affect them in an informed manner;

Civic Parity: To curb widening inequalities and redistribute power and resources to create a level playing field for fair cooperation;

Public Accountability: To debunk the deregulation mantra and ensure people with power over others are held to account for their actions.

BUP: In the meantime, what can people do in the absence of your proposed reforms?

HT: As we press for these reforms, we should in parallel adopt arrangements and practices, which are known to facilitate cooperative working between state institutions and citizens, improve people’s quality of life, and raise satisfaction with public actions.

In my latest book, Whose Government is it?, I brought together a group of experts who have extensively examined, developed, and implemented participatory and empowerment processes to explain how to establish them in practice.  Their contributions to the book provide the reasons and guidance for developing the capacity for effective democratic engagement, and setting up the appropriate arrangements to sustain informed cooperation.

BUP: What do you say to people who insist that we cannot afford to spend precious time and resources on consulting the public when it is not only costly, but could land us with damaging decisions?

HT: The truth is that we can’t afford to let the gap between citizens and their government widen any further. Token consultation and corrupted participatory practices are of course worse than useless, but that’s precisely why we must focus on getting the necessary framework and suitable approaches in place.  Democracy has the greatest potential, if we work on it, to advance the common good, safeguard personal well-being, and improve efficiencies.  But neglected, its subversion will plunge countless citizens into insecurity and exploitation.

BUP 4811_WHOSE GOV IS IT 6.18_12.jpgWhose Government Is It? by Henry Tam is available on the Bristol University Press website. Order here for £19.99.

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Policy Press here.

Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – sign up here. Please note that only one discount code can be used at a time.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Celebrating the 10-year collaboration between Voluntary Sector Review, the Third Sector Research Centre and the Voluntary Sector Studies Network


John Mohan

By John Mohan, Director of the Third Sector Research Centre, University of Birmingham, celebrates the 10 year collaboration between Voluntary Sector Review, the Third Sector Research Centre, University of Birmingham and the Voluntary Sector Studies Network.

To mark the anniversary, John has curated a free article collection featuring key articles from the last ten years. 

Despite the considerable efforts of many individuals and organisations to establish academic research centres in the voluntary sector field in the UK, it was only in 2007-8 that significant investments were made by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and other funding partners in the research and evidence infrastructure for this field.

Ten years ago, in the Third Sector Research Centre (TSRC) at the University of Birmingham we were in the first phase of hiring staff, setting our course for a decade of highly-productive research and knowledge exchange. In parallel, Policy Press and the Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN) were in discussions about creating a journal to provide an outlet for the growing body of research in the field. As Peter Halfpenny, Voluntary Sector Review’s (VSR) first editor, acknowledged in the first volume of the journal, the voluntary sector research and practitioner community owe a great deal to Policy Press for taking the risk of launching the journal in the midst of a recession. In TSRC we were pleased to be able to support this initiative, providing some resources from our core funding to assist with the start-up costs of the journal and, until 2013, the cost of administrative assistance. Since then VSR and TSRC have worked closely together and numerous TSRC staff, in an individual capacity, have contributed to the journal’s editorial board.

TSRC staff and students have also, of course, made a number of contributions to the journal and we are very grateful to Policy Press for drawing these together and making them available in this free-to-access collection of our work, to mark our tenth anniversary. The articles cover some of the core themes of TSRC’s work. Our substantive focus is primarily on the roles, resources and relationships of third sector organisations, broadly defined to include charities, social enterprises, and grassroots or below-radar organisations. This collection firstly includes over a dozen research papers on topics including:

♦ the nature of the third sector, including contributions on its definition, its character as a “distinctive” area of social life, the extent or otherwise of “hybridity” in third sector organisations, and understandings of the “Big Society” policies of the Coalition government;

♦ the measurement and classification of third sector activities, including micro-mapping methods for identifying “below-radar” organisations, delimitation of distinctive subsets of the sector such as environmental third sector organisations, or reviewing the strengths and weaknesses of local listings of voluntary organisations as research sources;

♦ discussions of how organisations perceive and experience change, including examples of organisational failure, responses to emerging changes in public service markets, or perceptions of their operating environment;

♦ contributions to debate about the impacts of the third sector, such as controversies about Social Return on Investment (SROI) methods, or uncertainties about the impacts of volunteering on individuals.

The journal of course provides an outlet not only for conventional research articles; it has a particular mission, which TSRC shares, to engage with policy and practitioner communities. In a fast-moving policy environment, the emphasis on shorter contributions, providing accessible summaries of the implications of research for policy and practice, is very important. TSRC has provided a number of such contributions which reflect on, for example:

♦ the nature of capacity-building, which has evolved considerably since the era of the Labour governments;

♦ the ways in which organisations might respond to challenges of measuring impact, or the practical implications for the sector of relatively abstract findings (e.g. relating to volunteering and employability);

♦ the character of public service reforms, such as personalisation in social care markets, commissioning and market stewardship in particular fields of activity, the “right to request” policies whereby organisations are “spun out” of core public services into new organisational forms, or social investment policies.

This free-to-access collection includes papers by the core academic staff of TSRC but it also reflects contributions from early-career staff and students. Many of these – over 15 at the last count – have moved into more established academic and practice positions in the field. It is to be hoped that they, and their successors, will take the work of TSRC forward and contribute towards the further development of VSR as a key academic outlet in this field.

A message from Julia Mortimer, Journals Director, Bristol University Press and Policy Press

Julia MortimerOn behalf of everyone at Policy Press I’d like to thank the TSRC for their support for Voluntary Sector Review and their continuing dedication to research and knowledge exchange in third sector studies. 2019 is the joint 10th anniversary of the TSRC and VSR, and a great opportunity to celebrate some of the contributions which helped shape the journal from its earliest days and develop its mission from supporting research and knowledge exchange in third sector studies in the UK, to helping to build links between researchers, policymakers and practitioners internationally.



A message from Jane Cullingworth, Co-Chair Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN)

Jane Cullingworth Dec 17On behalf of VSSN, I would like to wish TSRC a happy 10th anniversary! Ten years is an impressive milestone, particularly in the current climate. TSRC has been and continues to be an important part of the voluntary sector research community. Through its research and knowledge exchange activities, it has facilitated a deeper understanding of the UK sector. We would like to acknowledge the key role that TSRC played, with VSSN, in supporting the establishment of VSR – particularly through the funding of early administrative support and ongoing contributions to the editorial team, pool of reviewers and article submissions. Thank you and Happy Anniversary.


Voluntary Sector Review article collection – Free to access until 30 April 2019

Research articles:

Mohan, J; Yoon, Y; Kendall, J; Brookes, N (2018) The financial position of English voluntary organisations: relationships between subjective perceptions and financial realities. Voluntary Sector Review, Volume 9, Number 3, pp. 233-253

Harflett, N. (2015) “Bringing with them personal interests”: the role of cultural capital in explaining who volunteers, Voluntary Sector Review, 6, 3-19.
Mullins, D, Jones, T (2015) From ‘contractors to the state’ to ‘protectors of public value’? Relations between non-profit housing hybrids and the state in England. Voluntary Sector Review, Volume 6, Number 3, pp. 261-283
Phillimore, J, McCabe, Angus (2015) Small-scale civil society and social policy: the importance of experiential learning, insider knowledge and diverse motivations in shaping community action. Voluntary Sector Review, Volume 6, Number 2, pp. 135-151

Damm, C (2014) A mid-term review of third sector involvement in the Work Programme. Voluntary Sector Review, Volume 5, Number 1, pp. 97-116(20)

Arvidson, M, Lyon, F, McKay, S, Moro, D (2013) Valuing the social? The nature and controversies of measuring social return on investment (SROI). Voluntary Sector Review, Volume 4, Number 1, pp. 3-18
Clifford, D, Geyne-Rajme, F, Smith, G, Edwards, R, Büchs, M,  Saunders, C (2013) Mapping the environmental third sector in England: a distinctive field of activity? Voluntary Sector Review, Volume 4, Number 2, pp. 241-264
Ellis Paine, A, McKay, S, Moro, D (2013) Does volunteering improve employability? Insights from the British Household Panel Survey and beyond. Voluntary Sector Review, Volume 4, Number 3, pp. 355-376
Macmillan, R (2013) ‘Distinction’ in the third sector. Voluntary Sector Review, Volume 4, Number 1, pp. 39-54
Macmillan, R (2013) Decoupling the state and the third sector? The ‘Big Society’ as a spontaneous.Voluntary Sector Review, Volume 4, Number 2, pp. 185-203

Alcock, P, Kendall, J, Parry, Jane (2012) From the third sector to the Big Society: consensus or contention in the 2010 UK General Election? Voluntary Sector Review, Volume 3, Number 3, pp. 347-363
Mohan, J (2012) Entering the lists: what can we learn about the voluntary sector in England from listings produced by local infrastructure bodies? Voluntary Sector Review, Volume 3, Number 2, pp. 197-215
Scott, D, Teasdale, S (2012) Whose failure? Learning from the financial collapse of a social enterprise in ‘Steeltown’. Voluntary Sector Review, Volume 3, Number 2, pp. 139-155
Soteri-Proctor, A, Alcock, P (2012) Micro-mapping: what lies beneath the third sector radar? Voluntary Sector Review, Volume 3, Number 3, pp. 379-398

Buckingham, H (2011) Hybridity, diversity and the division of labour in the third sector: what can we learn from homelessness organisations in the UK? Voluntary Sector Review, Volume 2, Number 2, pp. 157-175(19)
Mills, A, Meek, R, Gojkovic, Dina (2011) Exploring the relationship between the voluntary sector and the state in criminal justice. Voluntary Sector Review, Volume 2, Number 2, pp. 193-211
Teasdale  S, McKay  S, Phillimore J, Teasdale N (2011) Exploring gender and social entrepreneurship: women’s leadership, employment and participation in the third sector and social enterprises.  Voluntary Sector Review, Volume 2, Number 1, pp. 57-76

Alcock, P (2010) A strategic unity: defining the third sector in the UK. Voluntary Sector Review, Volume 1, Number 1, pp. 5-24
Teasdale, S (2010) Explaining the multifaceted nature of social enterprise: impression management as (social) entrepreneurial behaviour. Voluntary Sector Review, Volume 1, Number 3, pp. 271-292

Policy and practice contributions

Dayson, C, Ellis Paine, A, Macmillan, R, Sanderson, E (2017) Third sector capacity building: the institutional embeddedness of supply. Voluntary Sector Review, Volume 8, Number 2, pp. 149-168

Harlock, J, Metcalf, L (2016) Measuring impact: prospects and challenges for third sector organisations. Voluntary Sector Review, Volume 7, Number 1, pp. 101-108

Livingstone, I, Macmillan, R (2015) More than a provider: the voluntary sector, commissioning and stewardship for a diverse market in criminal justice. Voluntary Sector Review, Volume 6, Number 2, pp. 221-230
Walton, C, Macmillan, R (2015) What’s the problem? The role of diagnosis in building the capacity of voluntary and community organisations. Voluntary Sector Review, Volume 6, Number 3, pp. 325-332
Buckingham, H, Jolley, A (2015) Feeding the debate: a local food bank explains itself. Voluntary Sector Review, Volume 6, Number 3, pp. 311-323

Kamerāde, D, Ellis Paine, A (2014) Volunteering and employability: implications for policy and practice. Voluntary Sector Review, Volume 5, Number 2, pp. 259-273

Macmillan, R (2013) Demand-led capacity building, the Big Lottery Fund and market-making in third sector support services. Voluntary Sector Review, Volume 4, Number 3, pp. 385-394

Miller, R, Hall, K, Millar, R (2012) Right to Request social enterprises: a welcome addition to third sector delivery of English healthcare? Voluntary Sector Review, Volume 3, Number 2, July 2012, pp. 275-285

Dickinson, H and Miller, R. (2011) GP commissioning: implications for the third sector, Voluntary Sector Review, 2(2), 265-273.
Macmillan, R (2011) ‘Supporting’ the voluntary sector in an age of austerity: the UK coalition government’s consultation on improving support for frontline civil society organisations in England. Voluntary Sector Review, Volume 2, Number 1, March 2011, pp. 115-124

Westall, A (2010) UK government policy and ‘social investment. Voluntary Sector Review. Volume 1, Number 1, pp. 119-124
Harlock, J (2010) Personalisation: emerging implications for the voluntary and community sector. Voluntary Sector Review, Volume 1, Number 3, pp. 371-378
Alcock, P (2010) Building the Big Society: a new policy environment for the third sector in England. Voluntary Sector Review, Volume 1, Number 3, November 2010, pp. 379-389


A long view on Brexit and social policy


by Linda Hantrais

If the UK were no longer in a position to promote or hamper EU social policy from the inside, would the EU be more likely to become a fully-fledged social union? And if the UK were no longer subjected to EU law, what might the implications be for UK social policy?

With Brexit shrouded in uncertainty and likely to remain so for an indeterminate length of time What Brexit means for EU and UK social policy, a new Policy Press Short by Linda Hantrais, out this month, adopts a long view to help readers understand how we got to where we are and how social policy might be reconfigured in the wake of the withdrawal negotiations.

By drawing on a range of disciplinary, conceptual and theoretical approaches, the book explores the complex interconnections between social policy formation, implementation and governance in the EU before, during and after the UK’s membership. The chapters examine the issues, debates and policy challenges facing the EU at different stages in its development, as national interests evolved and polarised under pressures from public and parliamentary opinion, fanned by a persistently hostile British press, and shaped by the personalities, beliefs, judgements and prejudices of politicians and their electorates across the EU.

By documenting how UK governments,  officials and social scientists – often simultaneously – promoted and hampered European social and employment policy, the book seeks to explain why Brexit is unlikely to facilitate close social integration within EU27, and why the impact of Brexit on UK social policy is unlikely to result in a reversal or the unravelling of many decades of social and employment legislation implemented by UK governments after being subjected to rigorous parliamentary scrutiny.

“from the outset, UK governments of whatever political persuasion were never wholly committed to European political and social union.”

The book argues that the seeds of euroscepticism were sown in the 1950s in the social domain before the French voted in a referendum on enlargement in 1972 to accept the candidacies of the UK, Denmark, Ireland and Norway for membership of the European Communities (EC). For the six founding member states, with their corporatist employment-related insurance-based regimes, the social dimension was already controversial and divisive. A recurring theme throughout the book is that, from the outset, UK governments of whatever political persuasion were never wholly committed to European political and social union. The UK was only ever half in and never completely relinquished control over its national social protection system. One of the reasons why successive UK governments supported widening (to 28 members states by 2016) rather than deepening of the EU was that they expected the greater diversity of social, economic and political systems to dilute the federalising ambitions of EU institutions, and to make the chances of the EU becoming a social superstate ever more unrealistic.

The UK’s confrontational approach to European social law-making became most salient during the Thatcher years. The price to pay for the completion of the Single European Act 1986, which the UK government had strongly promoted, and which was designed, drafted and implemented by Arthur Cockfield, the UK’s appointee to the Commission, was the extension of qualified majority voting for health and safety measures. While supporting the overall aim of raising regulatory standards in industry to prevent unfair competition, the UK government opposed further encroachment by European institutions in the social domain, and it fell to John Major to prevent the Social Chapter from becoming the social arm of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, considered by many observers as marking an irrevocable step along the path to Brexit.

By using its blocking powers and opt-outs to protect national sovereignty, the UK forfeited the opportunity to be present at the negotiating table, giving the European Commission a chance to test the widely held belief that the UK was a major force preventing social integration. The evidence was far from conclusive. Other national governments, most notably Denmark and Ireland, also had recourse to opt outs, and they voted in referendums against treaty reforms that they saw as a threat to national sovereignty.

The Labour government under Tony Blair opted into the Social Chapter in 1997, allowing it to become legally binding, and the UK came close to  losing the remnants of its sovereignty in the social domain, when (with Ireland  and Sweden) the government opened its borders to uncontrolled intra-European migration from Central and Eastern Europe in 2004. At the same time, heads of state and government agreed on regulation 883/2004 (implemented in 2010) on the regulatory coordination of social security rights, which laid down the principle of the exportability of benefits. This was one of the issues on which David Cameron was to seek, and obtain, concessions in 2016, but without being able to convince the eurosceptic UK electorate that the EU could be reformed from the inside.

“Due to its half-in half-out position, the UK was, however, less directly affected by the 2010 eurozone and 2015 refugee crises.”

By declining to join Economic and Monetary Union (with Denmark) and to sign up to Schengen (with Ireland), the UK had restrained its ability to influence EU social policy. Due to its half-in half-out position, the UK was, however, less directly affected by the 2010 eurozone and 2015 refugee crises. While UK governments were resisting EU-driven social legislation, officials and advisers to the European Commission were closely involved in formulating soft law alternatives in the social domain, most notably through the open method of coordination. They thereby helped to extend the reach of social policy beyond employment rights by assisting with the introduction of targets, benchmarking, the exchange of good practice and policy learning. In addition, Tony Blair’s government is credited with having ‘uploaded’ Labour’s flexibility and welfare-to-work policies to EU level.

So what does all this mean for EU and UK social policy post-Brexit?

Even as the UK was triggering article 50 in 2017, the European Commission was launching the European Pillar of Social Rights. As at other critical moments in the past, in the context of widespread austerity in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, eurozone and refugee crises and the rise of populist parties, EU institutions were seeking to demonstrate that they were concerned to promote social progress for their increasingly eurosceptic and disillusioned peoples. Brexit had provided a wake-up call for EU27. The Pillar’s provisions applied primarily to the eurozone countries. Recognising the importance of national preferences in the social domain, the Pillar left individual member states to advance at their own pace, an approach long advocated by the UK.

Whether the UK leaves or remains, and deal or no deal, from the undertakings provided in the Prime Minister’s speeches, the withdrawal bill, and statements by the CBI, TUC and European Parliament, it seems unlikely that social legislation on workers’ rights will be diluted for so long as the UK is trading with EU27. The settled status afforded to EU migrants and their families residing in the UK could allay fears, at least in the immediate future, regarding freedom of movement.

Given that the UK needed ten years to join a common market of only six member states, and that Greenland needed three years to negotiate its withdrawal, it could well be a decade or more before we can understand the full meaning of Brexit for EU and UK social policy.


Linda Hantrais is author of three editions of Social Policy in the European Union (3rd edn Palgrave, 2007); Family Policy Matters: European responses to family change (Policy Press, 2004); and International Comparative Research: theory, policy and practice (Palgrave 2009).


What Brexit means for EU and UK social policy [FC]What Brexit Means for EU and UK Social Policy by Linda Hantrais is available on the Policy Press website. Order here for £11.99.

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