Remaking the relations of work and welfare
Remaking the relations of work and welfare

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4.3 Neo-Marxist interpretations of welfare to work

Neo-Marxists interpret welfare-to-work programmes as doubly alienating. First, the programmes deny workers control over the conditions of their ‘employment’ by forcibly constructing their relations with employers. Second, they deepen social inequalities because they are concerned with people who are weakest in the competitive labour market. Neo-Marxists view economic regulation as the principle purpose of welfare to work. Its task is to manage the contradictions of the capitalist welfare state (Offe, 1984) by reconciling the tensions between welfare provision and capital accumulation during transformations in work Welfare states are said to be moving away from stable full employment and management of the market economy within a national policy framework (the Keynesian Welfare National State) and towards a regime in which welfare depends on work and competitiveness, requires continuous change in the pursuit of efficiency, and policy decisions are taken in the context of cost-cutting globalised production (the Schumpeterian Workfare Postnational Regime) (Jessop, 2000). The implications of the latter for welfare are that costs too must be minimised, following the ‘less eligibility’ principle. So must the costs of the cheapest labour, if affluent Western welfare regimes are to compete in global markets.

Neo-Marxism, therefore, draws attention to a number of NDYP's shortcomings. The capacity of the programme to create employment is very limited. Costs per ‘trainee’ remain high, so it is not reducing welfare expenditure. There is no audit of enhanced skills. And with large numbers of leavers to unknown destinations, its social-disciplinary value is also in doubt. These criticisms are reinforced by Sunley et al. (2001) in their spatial analysis, which concludes that NDYP may be least effective in the very localities in which it is most needed as the analysis in Figure 4 suggests. And the data in Table 1 for job placements show that it magnifies existing labour market inequalities.

Analyses therefore conclude that economic regulation is the main purpose of such programmes. Grover and Stewart (1999; 2000), for example, argue that the objective of the programmes is to contain wage inflation by drawing into employment inactive people who will accept entry-level wages. Peck and Theodore (2000, p. 120) argue that they ‘intensify competitive pressures at the bottom of the labour market and enforce low paid work’. NDYP adheres to the ‘less eligibility’ principle by shaping the critical ‘reservation wage’: the minimum amount of pay for which employees individually decide they are prepared to work.

Young women are in a 30:70 minority on NDYP (see Table 1). There is now a concentration of women in part-time, lower paid, and generally less skilled work sought by poorly qualified young people. Marxist feminists would explain this in terms of young women's adaptability in labour markets, and their historically lower reservation wage as ‘second earners’ and a ‘reserve army of labour’, which can be called upon in boom times, or when the wage demands of the primary labour force threaten employers' profits.

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