ArticlePDF Available

Positive affect as coercive strategy: Conditionality, activation and the role of psychology in UK government workfare programmes



Eligibility for social security benefits in many advanced economies is dependent on unemployed and underemployed people carrying out an expanding range of job search, training and work preparation activities, as well as mandatory unpaid labour (workfare). Increasingly, these activities include interventions intended to modify attitudes, beliefs and personality, notably through the imposition of positive affect. Labour on the self in order to achieve characteristics said to increase employability is now widely promoted. This work and the discourse on it are central to the experience of many claimants and contribute to the view that unemployment is evidence of both personal failure and psychological deficit. The use of psychology in the delivery of workfare functions to erase the experience and effects of social and economic inequalities, to construct a psychological ideal that links unemployment to psychological deficit, and so to authorise the extension of state-and state-contracted-surveillance to psychological characteristics. This paper describes the coercive and punitive nature of many psycho-policy interventions and considers the implications of psycho-policy for the disadvantaged and excluded populations who are its primary targets. We draw on personal testimonies of people experiencing workfare, policy analysis and social media records of campaigns opposed to workfare in order to explore the extent of psycho-compulsion in workfare. This is an area that has received little attention in the academic literature but that raises issues of ethics and professional accountability and challenges the field of medical humanities to reflect more critically on its relationship to psychology. Published by the BMJ Publishing Group Limited. For permission to use (where not already granted under a licence) please go to
Positive affect as coercive strategy: conditionality,
activation and the role of psychology in UK
government workfare programmes
Lynne Friedli,
Robert Stearn
London, UK
Department of English and
Humanities, School of Arts,
Birkbeck, University of London,
London, UK
Correspondence to
Dr Lynne Friedli, 22 Mayton
Street, London N7 6QR, UK;
Accepted 9 February 2015
To cite: Friedli L, Stearn R.
Med Humanit 2015;41:
Eligibility for social security benets in many advanced
economies is dependent on unemployed and
underemployed people carrying out an expanding range
of job search, training and work preparation activities,
as well as mandatory unpaid labour (workfare).
Increasingly, these activities include interventions
intended to modify attitudes, beliefs and personality,
notably through the imposition of positive affect. Labour
on the self in order to achieve characteristics said to
increase employability is now widely promoted. This
work and the discourse on it are central to the
experience of many claimants and contribute to the view
that unemployment is evidence of both personal failure
and psychological decit. The use of psychology in the
delivery of workfare functions to erase the experience
and effects of social and economic inequalities, to
construct a psychological ideal that links unemployment
to psychological decit, and so to authorise the
extension of stateand state-contractedsurveillance
to psychological characteristics. This paper describes the
coercive and punitive nature of many psycho-policy
interventions and considers the implications of psycho-
policy for the disadvantaged and excluded populations
who are its primary targets. We draw on personal
testimonies of people experiencing workfare, policy
analysis and social media records of campaigns opposed
to workfare in order to explore the extent of psycho-
compulsion in workfare. This is an area that has received
little attention in the academic literature but that raises
issues of ethics and professional accountability and
challenges the eld of medical humanities to reect
more critically on its relationship to psychology.
Negativity enacts the dissent without which politics
disappears. Negativity, in this sense, is inseparable
from the struggles of subordinated persons to resist
the social conditions of their devaluation ( p.xii).
Three people start today on this work experience.
They are to help us for up to 30 hours a week for
eight weeks over the Christmas period. I am terri-
ed by the idea that head ofce think they dont
need to pay their staff. I myself am on part time
minimum wage and if they can have workers for
free now, what is to stop them making my position
redundant and using job centre people to run the
store at no cost to themselves. (Shoezone
employee, November 2012)
The cajoling of individuals into a positive affect
and motivatedstance with regard to their own
This paper considers the role of psychology in formu-
lating, gaining consent for and delivering neoliberal
welfare reform, and the ethical and political issues
this raises. It focuses on the coercive uses of psych-
ology in UK government workfare programmes: as
an explanation for unemployment (people are
unemployed because they have the wrong attitude or
outlook) and as a means to achieve employability or
job readiness(possessing work-appropriate attitudes
and beliefs). The discourse of psychological decit
has become an established feature of the UK policy
literature on unemployment and social security and
informs the growth of psychological conditional-
ity’—the requirement to demonstrate certain atti-
tudes or attributes in order to receive benets or
other support, notably food.
In addition, positive
affect is routinely imposed in workfare programmes
via the content of mandatory training courses and
through job centre or contractor messaging,for
example, motivational tweets or daily positive emails
to claimants.
The role of workfare in regulating labour
through enforcing low-paid, insecure work—‘creat-
ing workers for jobs that nobody wants’—has been
widely debated, frequently in connection with
increased welfare conditionality.
This literature
notes that eligibility for various benets is now
dependent on unemployed and underemployed
people carrying out an expanding range of job
search, training and work preparation activities, as
well as mandatory unpaid labour.
Our focus on
workfare schemes and interventions targeting
unemployed peoples attitudes is also indebted to
the body of feminist and Marxist critical work on
emotional and affective labour.
However, the
concerns of this literaturethe management and
suppression of feeling in service work and the hire
of subjectivity in cognitive and affective labours;
the constitutive, personality-forming effects of both
differ from ours.
The personality set to work is
not the same as the personality seeking employ-
ment. What the Jobcentre requires is a good but
not particular attitude to work in the abstract and a
capacity for adaptability that has no object. As a
jobseeker you are required to accept that what dif-
ferentiates you, the failed and undeserving jobsee-
ker, from other more deserving and successful
Open Access
Scan to access more
free content
For example, eligibility to receive cheap food from
community shops (inspiring motivation and condence in
our members) requires beneciaries to be motivated to
make positive change in their lives and to sign up to a
personal and professional development programme, the
success plan
40 Friedli L, et al.Med Humanit 2015;41:4047. doi:10.1136/medhum-2014-010622
Critical medical humanities
jobseekers is a set of attitudes and emotional orientations.
The aim is not a job, but the generic skill, attribute or dispos-
ition of employability.
Focusing on this aspect of governance,
there has also been extensive critical attention paid to the
psyche as a site of power and object of knowledge(p.iii),
and, under the rubric of the government of the self,
13 14
to the
role of strengths-based discourse in the formation of systems of
discipline and control and the formulation of active welfare sub-
15 20
However, there has been a marked silence about the use and
misuse of psychology in public policy on many fronts: especially,
the role of psychological institutions and professions in work-
fare and in the emerging employment services industry; and the
coercive and punitive nature of many psycho-policy interven-
tions. The voices of claimants and the disadvantaged and
excluded populations who are the primary targets of these
enforced programmes are little heard. So, this paper is also an
effort to challenge that silence: we aim to stimulate more critical
reection on the relationship of medical humanities to psych-
ology and the wider well-beingeld, and to generate greater
debate about professional accountability for these development-
We draw on personal testimonies of people experiencing
UK policy and document analysis, and social media
records of the activity of campaigns opposed to workfare.
In the last three decades, welfare reforms in many rich demo-
cratic states have led to increased emphasis on the conditionality
of social security payments and the activationof their recipients,
avowedly to avert or correct ethical and psychological depend-
encyand other forms of debility, depression and etiolated work
12 13 20 22 23
which are widely thought to be both symptom
and cause of unemployment.
Failure to meet conditions placed
on eligibility for benets is punished directly by benet sanctions
(the part or total cessation of social security payments for a given
period of time),
as well as indirectly by compulsory support
in the form of workfare, skills training, psychological referral or
psychometric testing. The conditions are diverse in kind as well
as wide-ranging: from age and residence criteria, or restrictions
on numbers of (paid) hours worked per week, to possession of
certain levels of qualications and the capacity to demonstrate
positive opinions on employment.
The expansion of condition-
ality in this way is linked to the continually increasing rate at
which Jobseekers Allowance ( JSA) and Employment and
Support Allowance claimants are sanctioned (the three months to
September 2013 saw JSA claimants sanctioned at a rate of 6% of
claimants per month, the highest since the introduction of JSA in
Failure to participate in a training or employment
scheme is the most frequently occurring failurethat results in a
sanction. These mandatory interventions designed to shift atti-
tudes and beliefshave become an important element of activat-
ingthe unemployed, and are the focus of this paper.
Although payments by the state to people without jobs have been
tied to desirable patterns of behaviour since their rst institu-
22 23 2831
the unemployment policies of reformed welfare
states now aim at more complete and intimate behaviour change
through coercive mechanisms of greater scope.
The reorganisation of welfare in the UK accompanying
current moves to replace six working-age benets with Universal
Credit (UC) by 2017 is the latest face of this broader trend.
22 33
Under UC, each claimant will be issued with a Claimant
Commitment (CC) (which has already replaced the Jobseekers
Agreement for new claimants at many Jobcentres). The CC
enables Jobcentre staff to check claimantsbehaviour against the
range of work-related requirementsto which they have com-
These requirements are sorted into a tiered system of
conditionality. UC furthers the Department for Work and
Pensions(DWP) project of personalised behavioural condition-
of which psychological coercion and governance
imposed in and through workfareis an integral part. For the
rst time, under UC, these forms of conditionality are extended
to claimants also in work.
By workfare we mean the work-for-your-benetsschemes in
which unemployed people are forced to work for a charity, busi-
ness, social enterprise, public service or government agency in
order to continue to be eligible for benets. We also include the
range of skills-building and motivational workshops that are
presented alongside such schemesas part of a range of activ-
ities that unemployed people are obliged to undertakeand
schemes that are composed of training courses in tandem with
unpaid work (Skills Conditionality is an example of the former;
Traineeships and Sector-Based Work Academies of the latter).
The participation of unemployed people in schemes with train-
ing elements is secured by the same means as work placement
schemes: through the threattacit or explicit, indirect or direct
of sanctions. It is important that they be looked at as a group
(and that we adopt a denite but not too narrow denition of
workfare) since this is both how they are implemented and how
they impact on unemployed people.
In the UK, as in many other Western states, workfare is orga-
nised within an employment services sector that extensively
contracts out services to for-prot and non-prot organisa-
Where UK policy differs is in the commissioning prac-
tices of DWP, which has outsourced the procurement, design
and arrangement of employment services and unpaid work pla-
cements to a small number of large-scale for-prot companies.
The Jobcentre refers a claimant to a primecontractor (Ingeus,
A4e, G4S, Serco) that provides some services and mandatory
forms of assistance and contracts out others to smaller contrac-
tors, which arrange unpaid work placements at charities and
businesses. Government contracts specify little about the details
of the services to be provided: what control there is, govern-
ment exerts through a tiered system of payment by
Medical humanities is an emerging eld. Some of the central themes
of enquiry relevant to our concern with the use of psychology to
discipline citizens are explored through the work of the Centre for
Medical Humanities in Durham (
Social media are a primary source of personal accounts of the
experience of psychological coercion; Twitter Facebook, the comments
section of online articles and blog platforms represent some of the few
opportunities for claimants to speak out about the content of mandatory
training courses, psychological referrals, receiving daily positive
emails and the prevalence of positive psychology messagingby
Jobcentres and welfare-to-work subcontractors. Boycott Workfare also
receives personal testimonies via email and the name and shameforms
submitted to the website (identifying business and charity users of
workfare schemes). We deal with these forms of personal document in
the course of our activities with Boycott Workfare; they can be made
public where permission has been granted from the person involved. We
have also sought permission before citing experiences detailed in blogs
and other social media accounts. The ephemeral nature of social media,
the use of pseudonyms, claimantsfears of sanctions and retribution if
identied and the painful nature of many of the experiences described
raise a number of difculties in accessing, collecting and selecting these
data. Addressing these challenges is an important future research agenda
for the medical humanities and forms part of a project on workfare at
the Wellcome Trust.
Friedli L, et al.Med Humanit 2015;41:4047. doi:10.1136/medhum-2014-010622 41
Critical medical humanities
37 39 40
The fact that most psycho-compulsion occurs
within this black boxhas important implications since there is
virtually no oversight of the content of such compulsions, no
professional accountability and no effective means of appeal
against them.
Workfare is central to normalisation of the idea that harsh
sanctions should be used to underwrite certain obligations of
citizenship, and to singling out as the paramount obligation the
enforcement of work, with no regard to the specic character of
that work or to a persons other responsibilities.
13 14
furthers the separation of work and livelihood and normalises
the idea that certain groups of people are not entitled to
payment for their labour and that lengthy periods of unpaid
labour (eg, internships or volunteering) are a precondition for
employment. In this way, it undermines the security, pay and
conditions of all workers and non-workers.
Moreover, it
demands that people assent to the idea that paid work as it is
currently organised is the only route to both personal fullment
and public value and obscures the economic reality of a dual
labour market that produces and relies upon the stratication of
work and the escalating inequalities in income and quality of
working life.
45 46
Psycho-compulsion, dened as the imposition of psychological
explanations for unemployment, together with mandatory activ-
ities intended to modify beliefs, attitude, disposition or person-
ality, has become a more and more central feature of activating
the unemployed and hence of peoples experience of unemploy-
ment. There has been little debate about the recruitment of
psychologyand, by implication, psychologistsinto monitor-
ing, modifying and punishing people who claim social security
47 48
or research into the impact of mandatory positive
affect on an expanding range of unproductiveor failing citi-
those who are out of work, not working enough, not
earning enough and/or failing to seek work with sufcient
A number of reports produced for the Cabinet Ofce under
both the previous Labour government and the current Coalition
have drawn centrally upon psychology and behavioural economics
for the legitimation and direction of behaviour change policy or
instrumental behaviourism.
The mission of the Cabinets
Behavioural Insights Team or nudge unit’—‘the application of
behavioural science and psychology to public policy’—is a recent
statement in this tradition.
The psychological sciences in com-
bination with behavioural economics provide both an ostensibly
scientic model and the means for a positive self-image for policy-
makers and practitioners within the welfare-to-work sector. This
notion has considerable traction so that even critics of recent UK
government active labour market policies who advocate the aboli-
tion of benet sanctions suggest that
insofar as it is desirable to attempt to inuence claimantsbehav-
iour [] this should be done through a scientic approach.
Psychology allied to behavioural economics allows the sector
to consolidate its self-conception as an industry in its own right
that sets its own standards and regulates itself via the
Employment Related Services Association (established 2005)
and the Institute of Employability Professionals (launched
54 55
In this setting, psychology (and therapy discoursemore gener-
ally) coproduces and validates the core mythologies of neoliberal-
ism, while simultaneously undermining and eroding alternative
discoursesof solidarity, collectivity and interdependence.
functions not only to reinforce the view that achieving the status
of (paid) working citizen is the pinnacle of human experience
but also to construct a very specicdenition of the atti-
tudes, beliefs and attributes that constitute employability:the
right kind of subject;
the right kind of affect.
The roll-call of
valued characteristics familiar from positive psychology, the well-
being industry and public health—‘condence, optimism, self-
efcacy, aspiration’—are imposed in and through programmes of
mandatory training and job preparation. They also feature cen-
trally in the way in which people receiving benets frame their
own experiences.
The duties of citizenship are expanded to
include enforced rational self-governance so that liberal subjects
capabilities, inclinations and desires are in accord with values and
expectations that are identied as already given by a civil society
centred on the labour market.
13 14
For example, in Labour MP
Graham Allens 2011 report on early intervention public health
and education policy, life readinessis said to consist in
having the social and emotional capability to enter the labour
market; understanding the importance and the social, health and
emotional benets of entering work, the impacts of drug and
alcohol misuse, crime and domestic and other violence (p.9).
These kinds of policies, seeking to model in unemployed
people the imperatives of the market, are carried out by means
of the market, through those who are paid to activateclai-
mants and those who benet from their unpaid labour.
The growth and inuence of discourses of positive affect in
these and other systems of governance and technologies of the
self has been widely observed.
1618 21 32 47 48
discourseis a signicant policy imperative in both health and
welfare reform. Positive affect plays an important supporting
role in policy preoccupations with how best to manage the
intersection of long-term conditions and long-term unemploy-
ment, exemplied in the shift from rest cure (signied by the
sick note), to work cure (signied by the t note).
The psychological attributes and dispositions of individuals
and communities (the ostensible presence or absence of opti-
mism, aspiration, self-efcacy, conscientiousness, sense of coher-
ence) are being used to account for unemployment (and for a
range of other social outcomes, notably health inequalities) and
are promoted via psychological interventions that aim to modify
cognitive function or emotional disposition/affect.
Signing up
for these interventions is an explicit or implicit condition for
receiving support. These trends intersect with and are reinforced
by the parallel rise in brain science—‘reading social problems
through understanding the brain’—which correlates outcomes
(crime, addiction, health behaviour, educational attainment)
with brain structure.
62 63
Conditions of psychological decit are
both scientically and medically legitimised. A cheerful dispos-
ition, in combination with a thankful heart and highly devel-
oped executive control, is so widely celebrated in the policy
literature that the politics of this reication are rarely ques-
These developments may help to explain what lies
behind the marked decline in solidarity with unemployed citi-
zens and welfare claimants and the heightened stigma in daily
life and public discourse experienced by people who are poor.
They also tend to preclude acknowledgement of the corporate
and charitable sector beneciaries of workfare and the low pay,
no payeconomy that workfare supports, or the estimated £25
billion per annum paid in benets to workers receiving wages
below subsistence levels.
44 66
42 Friedli L, et al.Med Humanit 2015;41:4047. doi:10.1136/medhum-2014-010622
Critical medical humanities
While there is considerable evidence of this hardening of public
attitudes towards benet claimants, the value of mandatory
unpaid work activity and enforced volunteeringis strongly
contested. There are numerous campaigning and claimant soli-
darity groups in the UK and the rest of Europe whose activities
are concentrated in this area. One is Boycott Workfare, which
evolved through the work of people who have experienced
workfare in the UK. Formed in 2010, it is a movement that
campaigns against the imposition of forced, unpaid work on
several levels: by taking action to expose the involvement of
companies and other entities in taking or arranging placements
or providing mandatory training, and by acting as a point of
information for claimants and other claimantsorganisations:
We expose and take action against companies and organisations
proting from workfare; encourage organisations to pledge to
boycott it; and actively inform people of their rights.
Informing people of their rights means proposing a model of
activity opposed to and subversive of the activatedwelfare
Undoing the legitimacy conferred on workfare, in part by its
association with psychology, is a central concern of the cam-
paign, as is counteracting the variously inected negative stereo-
type of unemployed people. The naming and shamingof
organisations participating in workfare has led large numbers to
withdraw and is a central factor in DWP efforts not to publish
names of those involved. For example, the DWP argued (in
appealing the Information Commissioners decision that they
must publish the names of companies involved in Mandatory
Work Activity) that making this information public would have
been likely to have led to the collapse of the [] scheme.
68 69
Concerns that mandatory placements undermine the meaning of
volunteering have also led many voluntary agencies to sign a
keep volunteering voluntaryagreement, undertaking not to
take part in workfare schemes.
It is important to understand the extent to which activities that
until very recently would have been classied as workare now
rebranded as work preparationand are hence both unpaid and
characterised in terms of psychological preparation. The
Apprenticeship and Traineeship Database reveals the very wide
range of private sector organisations offering unpaidopportun-
itieswhich are seen to enable young people to become work
ready, an attribute that is essentially about motivationand the
right attitudeto work. Tasks that would once have provided
paid Saturday or holiday jobs for young people are now pro-
vided free of charge to major employers, often in the absence of
any return, apart from an exit interview. One unpaid trainee-
ship opportunity lists the following tasks:
check and top up under bonnet levels on a vehicle; check anti-
freeze content and recommend action; check and adjust tyre
pressures; t a standard light vehicle tyre; balance steel and alloy
wheels; change oil and lter; replace spark plugs on a 4 cylinder
engine; replace an air lter; torque up wheel nuts to the correct
There are currently around 50 traineeships on offer in the
National Health Service where for no pay you can do
administration and reception work; hospitality and catering;
service areas, including portering and post; assisting in clinical
One gets little in return for working unpaid 4 days per week,
for 30 h, for up to 6 months in any of these rebranded jobs:
We expect all traineeships to offer a guaranteed interview with
the work placement host at the end of the placement. Where pos-
sible, the young person should receive a real job interview where
a post or apprenticeship has become available. However, we rec-
ognise that this will not always be feasible and in these cases a
formal exit interview with the employer who provided their
work placement will help the young person to practice and
prepare for future opportunities (p.13).
Like workfare, traineeships contribute to the separation of
work activity from wages. An unemployed person creates value
and generates income for everyone except themselves. Recent
developments show that waiting for a wagehas been extended
to job applicants, with some employers requiring applicants to
undertake voluntary shiftsbefore receiving a job offer: I had
interview in May for Events job. They wanted me to work 2
week trial for free! UNPAID! 8.30am/10pm(comment by
Shaun, on Thomson).
The imposition of psychological explanations for unemploy-
ment functions to erase the economic realities of the labour
market and authorises the extension of state-sanctioned surveil-
lance to psychological characteristics. Compulsory positive
affect and psychological authority are being applied in workfare
in order to (1) identify ostensible psychological barriers to
gaining employment and to inculcate attributes and attitudes
said to increase employability; (2) punish people for non-
compliance (through conditionality and benet sanctions) and
(3) legitimise workfare and other coercive labour market
These developments mean that positive psychology is now as
signicant a feature of conditionality in the lives of those who
are poor as going to church once was, and they share a common
evangelical language: something within the spirit of individuals
living within deprived communities that needs healed.
Unfortunately, the compulsions of positive affect are not con-
ned to Sundays.
I am shy and have difculty speaking to people and I will not do
play acting in front of a group of people I am very uncomfortable
with [] I was told I would be sanctioned if I didnt take part,
so I said I would get up, but I am not speaking [] After that,
we had to ll out yet another benets of being assertivesheet.
The consistent failure of workfare interventions to achieve
their stated aim of improving work outcomesboth in the UK
and internationallyhas resulted in a much greater focus on
psychological or soft outcomes, said to move people closer to
3842 76 77
A 2012 evaluation of an ineffective
three-stranded scheme, on which DWPs recent Help to Work
three-part programme is based, found that
78 79
while there was no signicant difference in job outcomes at the
end of the programme the OCM
and CAP
trailblazer strands
were successful in achieving soft outcomes such as increases in
motivation, condence, job-seeking behaviour and a positive
Ongoing Case Management: more intense Jobcentre-based
surveillance, coupled with a range of mandatory activities.
Community Action Plan: a 6-month-long workfare placement,
coupled with supported job search (identical to the Community Work
Placement strand of the current Help to Workscheme).
Friedli L, et al.Med Humanit 2015;41:4047. doi:10.1136/medhum-2014-010622 43
Critical medical humanities
change in attitudes to work. These softer impacts may yet trans-
late into job outcomes and sign off from JSA (p.4).
Soft outcomesdisarticulate work and wages by treating a job
as something that may be gained by possessing the right attitude
to work (an attitude for which one must labour) and work as
something to be valued because it evinces and activates the right
attitude in the (potential) employeerather than because it
allows one to purchase a living. At the same time, the means by
which soft outcomes are regulated (sanctions: for failures in atti-
tude and in compliance with the actions demanded by active
labour market measures) link together more closely than ever a
persons failure to manifest the right attitude and their inability
to afford to purchase a living.
Efforts to achieve these soft outcomesare evident in the
course content of mandatory training programmes run by major
workfare contractors like A4e and Ingeus and are increasingly
apparent in the personal testimonies of claimants:
Ive been claiming Jobseekers Allowance for about 8 weeks.
Ihavent sworn or shouted at anyone. I have had 3 advisor
interviews already; yesterday my adviser asked me to see their
psychologist. I did not consent. Ive been told that I shouldnt
look into things too deeply...& that I am asking too many
The choice was to accept psych eval, or go straight to MWA.
Yo u ve got all these hooks on youits your way of beingyou
need to shift the way you look at it. Youve got all this anger and
frustration and thats stopping you from getting a job. It comes
across in your CV.
I duly attended the ofces of A4e and (along with 6 other custo-
mers) was treated to INSPIRE. This turned out to be a session
on Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) run by an outside
company claiming to be Master Practitioners in NLP.Iwas
mandatedto attend under threat of loss of benets and was
effectively unable to leave the session because of the same ever
present threat.
My advisorsaid I needed to see a psychologist because I was
tearful and anxious after having my JSA cut for 4 weeks despite
having a young child to look after by myself. When I said I did
not trust anyone who nds it acceptable to starve others as a pun-
ishment, he told me that I was paranoid and again, needed to see
a psychologist.
The A4e Engage Module states: students will learn how to
develop the right mindset which will appeal to employers(other
elements of this module are assertiveness, condence, benets of
work, motivation and enhance your mood). As Esther McVey,
Minister of State for Employment, announced recently, jobsee-
kers are expected to take steps to make themselves attractive to
employers: employers looking to ll vacancies want people who
are prepared, enthusiastic and job-ready.
Willingness to
submit to coerced labour becomes an index of the (approved) dis-
position and beliefs possessed by an unemployed person.
Izzy Koksal, in her blog on the experience of A4e training,
describes the impact of being surrounded by motivational quotes,
with their persistent emphasis on individual responsibility for
unemployment and the perils of negative thinking.
A sheet full
of afrmations, handed out to participants in the condence
buildingworkshops that form part of Ingeusdelivery of the
Work Programme, include such motivational statements as
Go hard, or go home
My only limitations are the ones I set for myself
Failure is the path of least persistence
Success is getting up one more time than you fall down
Its always too soon to quit
Nobody ever drowned in sweat
The sin isnt falling down but staying down
No one can make you feel inferior without your consent
People have described feelings of anger, humiliation and
depression on receiving daily positiveemails from welfare to
work contractors such as A4e: success is the only option;
were getting there;smile at life;this can be the greatest,
most fullling day youve ever known. For that to happen, you
have to allow it(Warren Clark, personal communication,
Reecting on the feedback they received from Learn Direct
(a major training provider), following a 4-week unpaid place-
ment at the Salvation Army, one person wrote:
attitude to idea why they rated me poor for this,
I was willing to work, I travelled by train every day then walked
a long walk from Edinburgh station to the store every single day
for 4 weeks!, and done everything asked plus more!
He is concerned because decits in attitude and motivation
can and do trigger sanctions. Psycho-coercion of this kind is dir-
ectly contributing to the escalation of the number of sanctions
being applied, forcing people off benets and plunging growing
numbers into poverty:
28 4244 53 89 90
eligibility for both
out-of-work and in-work benets is contingent not only on
certain behaviours but also on possession of positive affect; con-
ditionality is linked to the employabilitymindset. For example,
one of the criteria for being sent on Community Work
Placements (unpaid work for 30 h per week, for 26 weeks) is
lack of motivation, although this is never dened.
The messages in the course handout for Ingeusmandatory
Healthy Attitudes for Livingcourse take these themes a step
further, intended, perhaps, to counter any residual yearnings in
the jobseeker for either justice or security and to pre-empt
reection on the social gradient in bad things happening:
Sometimes lifes just plain unfair. Bad things happen to the nicest
of people. On top of being unfair, lifes unpredictable and uncer-
tain a great deal of the time. And really, thats just the way life is
[] If you can accept the cold hard reality of injustice and uncer-
tainty, youre far more likely to bounce back when life slaps you
in the face. Youre also less likely to be anxious about making
decisions and taking risks. But remember, you can still strive to
play fair yourself.
This Ingeus module argues that one common thinking trap
is catastrophising:you may exaggerate or magnify the nega-
tive aspect of an event;you may view the probability of disas-
ter as great. One is encouraged to [recognise] the negative
thinking errorand take calculated risks.
Of course, power
over certain catastrophes lies with Ingeus staff, who are respon-
sible for raising a compliance doubtagainst an unemployed
person, the rst step towards being sanctioned. In addition to
mandatory training informed by positive psychology, claimants
may also be subjected to strengths-based interventions, including
online psychometric testing—‘failure to comply may result in
loss of benets.
And as Cromby and Willis have noted,
every aspect of the Values in Action Inventory of Signature
Strengthstest recently imposed on claimants contravened the
British Psychological Societys (BPS) ethical code.
44 Friedli L, et al.Med Humanit 2015;41:4047. doi:10.1136/medhum-2014-010622
Critical medical humanities
Working on psychological decits becomes the full-time,
unpaid labour of millions of people,
which, together with
mandatory job search activities, ensures that these days people
who are poor have no money, no timeand no place:
Basically what Im saying in short is that I feel there is no place in
society for a quiet, shy, creative person like me. And now I feel I
dont even deserve to call myself creative, because I donteven
do that anymore, because I am too depressed.
In a scheme recently announced, claimants will undergo inter-
views to assess whether they have a psychological resistanceto
work, along with attitude proling to judge whether they are
bewildered, despondent or determined.
Those deemed less
mentally twill be subject to more intensive coaching, while
those who are optimistic’—such as graduates or those who have
recently been made redundantcan be placed on less rigorous
regimes. This classication system will be used to recruit to a
new scheme obliging those who are long-term unemployed to
spend 35 h a week at a job centre.
The context in which positive psychologys motivational
techniques are deployed, then, is one structured by a regime
of tacit and explicit threat and coercion, in which one can
never be sure whether or not a sanction will be tagged to a
particular instance of behaviour or attitude. As many rst-
hand accounts witness, Jobcentres and the premises of
welfare-to-work contractors are not neutral settings for inter-
ventions or decisions about the relative degree of unemployed
peoples material hardship, willingness to work,readiness
for work or resistanceto work: they are intensely
anxiety-inducing and intimidating locations that bear witness
to marked imbalances of power.
What is perhaps more noteworthy than all these develop-
ments is the response of the professional body responsible for
ethics and accountability of psychology and psychologists. BPS
has conned itself to saying that such tests must be administered
by experienced users of psychometrics under supervision of a
chartered psychologist.
[T]he voices of resistance against the abjectifying logics of neo-
liberal governmentality are growing louder ( p.2).
The participation of psychology and psychologists in the deliv-
ery of coercive goals in welfare reform clearly raises ethical
questions. As Wright ( p.2)
has observed, the active welfare
subject is a gure of aspiration, a transformation possible only
via coerced self improvement. Psychology now plays a central
and formative role in stigmatising the existence and behaviour
of various categories of poor citizens(p.9)
and in legitimating
the measures taken to transform and activate them. Personality,
disposition and behaviour are abstracted from context, history
and political struggle, obscuring the fact that the distinction
between those with appropriate levels of optimismand those
without is essentially a class distinction.
Mandatory work-
related activity and supported job searchesinvolve tasks experi-
enced as humiliating and pointless by jobseekers:
75 94
the gro-
tesque daily practices of condemnation and disenfranchisement
that contribute to the social abjection of the most socially and
economically disadvantaged citizens (pp.1701).
There is no
evidence that work programme psycho-interventions increase
the likelihood of gaining paid work that lasts any length of
time. In perpetuating notions of psychological failure, they shift
attention away from the social patterning of unemployment and
from wider trends: market failure, precarity, the rise of in-work
poverty, the cost of living crisis and the scale of income inequal-
44 46
They contribute centrally to the reication of paid
work and the concomitant devaluing and discounting of all
other activities, contributions, values and commitments. Above
all, psychology is implicated in what amounts to a substitution
of outcomes, where the modication of psychological attributes
stands in for delivering actual improvements in household
income or increasing the availability of real paid work.
In the reication of positive affect, what is absent is any refer-
ence to the contested nature of constructs such as personality
and attitude, their ideological underpinnings and the pro-
cesses through which specic characteristics or attributes
acquire both social value and economic reward. In other
words, the political nature of these issues is evaded.
Psychological fundamentalismalso evident in the burgeoning
well-being industrytogether with the rise of psychological
conditionality, has a very direct impact on the lives of people
claiming welfare benets. This impact has barely been docu-
mented and highlights the need for deeper research scrutiny
and more pressing questions about relationships between
psychology and the medical humanities. The black boxingto
whichwehavereferredalsomeansthatfor both political
and methodological reasonsindependent research is espe-
cially important in tracing and making transparent the conu-
ence between medico-corporate interests and manifold forms
of labour market governance.
Even so, these questions are being asked elsewhere, in the
emergence of multiple forms of resistance to neoliberal deni-
tions of value and worth and to the erosion of hard-won rights
of social citizenship. Workfare has become an important site for
satire on the fetishisation of paid work, for struggle over deni-
tions of a meaningful and productive life and for attempts to
embrace myriad shades of human experience and human subjec-
tivities, with notable contributions from those whose welfare
dependency is most decried.
64 100102
The disability rights
movement has played a central role in challenging the discourse
of no legitimate dependencyand in using direct action to
express solidarity and to forge discourses and practices that can
shape positive identities for people claiming social security.
the coercive use of positive affect in workfare demonstrates,
there are good reasons to prefer the politics of rights and justice
to the discourses of positive psychology.
Acknowledgements An early version of this paper was presented at the Critical
Medical Humanities Symposium at Durham University (45 November 2013) and
was published as a blog by the Centre for Medical Humanities at Durham University
positive-affect-as-coercive-strategy-the-case-of-workfare/.) A critique of psycho-
compulsionalso appeared in Friedli L. A response: the ethics of psycho-policy
reections on the role of psychology in public health and workfare. Clinical
Psychology Forum 2014; 256: 1116. This work now contributes to Lynne Friedlis
collaboration with Hubbub, an interdisciplinary exploration of rest and its opposites
funded by the Wellcome Trust (see: We would like to
acknowledge the work and testimony of Boycott Workfare.
Contributors LF and RS both contributed to the research and writing of this
paper. LF was invited to participate in the Critical Medical Humanities Symposium at
Durham University, which was the occasion for much of the original research; an
invitation was subsequently extended to RS at her request. Portions of this paper
that are addressed specically to psycho-compulsion are based on LFs research.
More than 1.6 million people had joined the Work Programme alone
as of June 2014.
Friedli L, et al.Med Humanit 2015;41:4047. doi:10.1136/medhum-2014-010622 45
Critical medical humanities
Funding Research for this article was funded by the Wellcome Trust, grant number
Competing interests LF and RS are members of Boycott Workfare, an
organisation campaigning to abolish workfare.
Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.
Open Access This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the
terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits
others to distribute, remix, adapt and build upon this work, for commercial use,
provided the original work is properly cited. See:
1 Berlant L, Edelman L. Sex, or the unbearable. Durham and London: Duke
University Press, 2014.
2 Clark W. Workfare: a policy on the brink. Feb 2013.
workfare-a-policy-on-the-brink/ (accessed 23 Sep 2014).
3 Ferraro D. Two case studies in biopolitics: a critique of CBT as ideology. Archives
of a Divided Subject [blog], 12 Feb.
2014/02/12/two-case-studies-in-biopolitics/ (accessed 31 Sep 2014).
4 Community Shop. Giving surplus food social purpose. (accessed 15 Dec 2014).
5 Friedli L, Clark W. In the zone of rest denied. Nov 2014.
2014/11/28/in-the-zone-of-rest-denied-lynne-friedli-warren-clark/ (accessed 10 Dec
6 Stewart ABR, Wright S. Conditionality brieng: unemployed people. Welfare
Conditionality: sanctions, support and behaviour change, Sep 2014. http://www.
14.09.10_FINAL.pdf (accessed 3 Oct 2014).
7 Deeming C. Foundations of the workfare statereections on the political
transformation of the welfare state in Britain. Social Policy Adm. Published Online
First: 24 Sep 2014. doi:10.1111/spol.12096
8 Hochschild A. The managed heart: commercialisation of human feeling. California:
University of California Press, 1983.
9 Lazzarato M. Immaterial labor. In: Virno P, Hardt M, eds. Radical thought in Italy:
a potential politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996:13347.
10 Weeks K. Life within and against work: affective labor, feminist critique, and
Post-Fordist politics. Ephemera 2007;7(1):23349.
11 Moore P. Where is the study of work in critical IPE? Int Polit 2012;49(2):21537.
12 Jones R, Pykett J, Whitehead M. Changing behaviours: on the rise of the
psychological state. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2013.
13 Dean M. Governing the unemployed self in an active society. Economy Soc
14 Dean M. Liberal government and authoritarianism. Economy Soc 2002;31
15 Dwyer P. Creeping conditionality in the UK: from welfare rights to conditional
entitlements? Can J Sociol 2004;29(2):26587.
16 Howell A, Voronka J. The politics of resilience and recovery in mental health care.
Stud Soc Justice 2012;6(1):17.
17 Berlant L. Slow death (sovereignty, obesity, lateral agency). Crit Inq 2007;33
18 Berlant L. Cruel optimism. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2011.
19 Dwyer P, Ellison N. Work and welfare: the rights and responsibilities of
unemployment in the UK. In: Giugni M, ed. The politics of unemployment in
Europe: policy responses and collective action. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2009:5366.
20 Wright S. Conceptualising the active welfare subject: welfare reform in discourse,
policy and lived experience. Policy Polit. Published Online First: 24 Feb 2014.
21 Hubbub Group. Dr Lynne Friedli.
(accessed 14 Dec 2014).
22 Walters W. Unemployment and government: genealogies of the social. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2000.
23 Cole M. Sociology contra government? The contest for the meaning of
unemployment in UK policy debates. Work Employment Soc 2008;22(1):2743.
24 Webster D. Long-term unemployment, the invention of hysteresisand the
misdiagnosis of structural unemployment in the UK. Camb J Econ 2005;29:97595.
25 Department for Work and Pensions. New sanctions regime for
JobseekersAllowance. Oct 2012.
20130627060116/ (accessed
3 Aug 2014).
26 Department for Work and Pensions. Skills screenings and assessments: response to
FOI request MWA.
476604/attach/ (accessed 12 Aug 2014).
27 Webster D. The DWPS JSA/ESA sanctions statistics release, 19 February 2014.20
Feb 2014.
Webster-19-Feb-2014.pdf (accessed 12 Aug 2014).
28 Foucault M. Truth and juridical forms. In: Faubion J, ed. Power. Trans: Robert
Hurley and others. New York: New Press, 2000:189.
29 Levine-Clark M. The gendered economy of family liability: intergenerational
relationships and poor law relief in Englands Black Country, 18711911. JBr
Stud 2006;45(1):7289.
30 Levine-Clark M. The politics of preference: masculinity, marital status, and
unemployment relief in post-First World War Britain. Cult Soc Hist 2010;7(3):23352.
31 Taylor N. The politics of character.
character/ (accessed 25 Sep 2014).
32 Jones R, Pykett J, Whitehead M. Psychological governance and behaviour change.
Policy Politics 2013;41(2):15982.
33 Eichhorst W, Konle-Seidl R. Contingent convergence: a comparative analysis of
activation policies. Bonn: IZA, 2008.
34 Dwyer P, Wright S. Universal credit, ubiquitous conditionality and its implications
for social citizenship. J Poverty Soc Justice 2014;22(1):2735.
35 Gillies A, Krishna H, Paterson J, et al.Universal credit: what you need to know.
London: Child Poverty Action Group, 2013.
36 Pennycook M, Whittaker M. Conditions uncertain: assessing the implications of
Universal Credit in-work conditionality. London: Resolution Foundation, 2012.
37 Greer I, Symon G. Comparing workfare regimes: similarities, differences, and
exceptions. The Business School Working Paper Series, University of Greenwich,
2014; 6. (accessed 18 Sep 2014).
38 Greer I, Schulte L, Symon G. Inside the Black Box: ten theses on employment
services in Britain. Presented at the University of Greenwich, London 2014. https://
report.pdf (accessed 15 Aug 2014).
39 Department for Work and Pensions. Work Programme: programme costs to 31
March 2013.
data/le/209260/wp-costs-to-31-march-2013.pdf (accessed 23 Aug 2014).
40 Department for Work and Pensions. Work Programme ofcial statistics to June
2014. DWP: Information Exploitation and Security Directorate, 2014. https://www.
Programme_Statistical_Release_Sep14_Final.pdf (accessed 29 Sep 2014).
41 Work and Pensions Committee. Work and Pensions Committee: rst report. Can
the Work Programme work for all user groups? London: Stationary Ofce, 2013.
42 CitizensAdvice Bureau. Response to the call for information for the Independent
Review of Jobseekers Allowance Sanctions. January 2014. http://www.
benetsandtaxcredits/review_jsa.htm (accessed 12 Sep 2014).
43 Webster D. Independent review of Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) sanctions for
claimants failing to take part in back to work schemes. 13 January 2014. http://
Oakley-review-Jan-14_0.pdf (accessed 3 Sep 2014).
44 Shildrick T, MacDonald R, Webster C, et al.Poverty and insecurity: life in low pay,
no pay Britain. Bristol: Policy Press, 2012.
45 Gorz A. Critique of economic reason. London: Verso 1989.
46 Pennycook M, Whittaker M. Low Pay Britain. London: Resolution Foundation, 2012.
47 Friedli L, Stearn R. Whistle while you work (for nothing): positive affect as coercive
strategythe case of workfare. Nov 2013. http://medicalhumanities.wordpress.
strategy-the-case-of-workfare/. (accessed 3 Jan 2014).
48 Cromby J, Willis M. Nudging into subjectication: governmentality and
psychometrics. Crit Soc Policy 2014;34(2):24159.
49 Halpern D, Bates C, Mulgan G, et al.Personal responsibility and changing
behaviour: the state of knowledge and its implications for public policy. London:
Cabinet Ofce, Prime Ministers Strategy Unit, 2004.
50 Knott D, Muers S, Aldridge S. Achieving culture change: a policy framework.
London: Cabinet Ofce, Prime Ministers Strategy Unit, 2008.
51 Dolan P, Hallsworth M, Halpern D, et al.MINDSPACE: inuencing behaviour
through public policy. London: Cabinet Ofce and Institute for Government, 2010.
52 Behavioural Insights Team. What we do.
organisations/behavioural-insights-team (accessed 12 Sep 2014).
53 Webster D. Written evidence submitted to the House of Commons Work and
Pensions Committee Inquiry into the role of Jobcentre Plus in the reformed welfare
system. Jun 2013.
EvidencePdf/1401 (accessed 16 Oct 2013).
54 Employment Related Services Association. About us.
(accessed 2 Oct 2014).
55 Institute of Employability Professionals. About IEP.
index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=69&Itemid=186 (accessed 1 Oct
56 Peacock M, Bissell P, Owen J. Dependency denied: health inequalities in the
neo-liberal era Soc Sci Med 2014;118:17380.
57 Walkerdine V, ed. Challenging subjects: critical psychology for a new millennium.
London: Palgrave, 2002.
58 Shildrick T, MacDonald R. Poverty talk: how people experiencing poverty deny their
poverty and why they blame the poor.Sociol Rev 2013;61:285303.
59 Allen G. Early intervention: the next steps. London: HM Government, 2011:9.
46 Friedli L, et al.Med Humanit 2015;41:4047. doi:10.1136/medhum-2014-010622
Critical medical humanities
60 Department for Work and Pensions. Collection: t note.
government/collections/t-note (accessed 12 Aug 2014).
61 Friedli L. A response: the ethics of psycho-policyreections on the role of
psychology in public health and workfare. Clin Psychol Forum 2014;256:1116.
62 Abi-Rached J M. The birth of the neuromolecular gaze. His Human Sci 2010;23
63 Rose S. Beware brain-based learning.Times Higher Education, 12 Dec 2013.
2009703.fullarticle (accessed 3 Sep 2014).
64 Marteau T, Hall P. Breadlines, brains, and behaviour. Br Med J 2013;347:6750.
doi: (accessed 3 Sep 2014).
65 Tyler I. Revolting subjects: social abjection and resistance in neoliberal Britain.
London: Zed Books, 2013.
66 Birn A. Making it politic(al): closing the gap in a generation: health equity
through action on the social determinants of health. Soc Med 2009;4(3):
67 Boycott Workfare. About Boycott Workfare.
page_id=711 (accessed 15 Sep 2014).
68 Department for Work and Pensions v Information Commissioner and Frank Zola.
Decision by the First-Tier Tribunal General Regulatory Chamber (Information
Rights) 17 May 2013.
i1016/EA-2012-0207%28+2%29_Judgment_17-05-2013.pdf (accessed
2 Oct 2014): 12.
69 Department for Work and Pensions v Information Commissioner and Frank Zola.
Decision by the Upper Tribunal (Administrative Appeals Chamber). 15 Jul 2014.
info-commioner-and-fz2.pdf (accessed 2 Oct 2014).
70 Keep Volunteering Voluntary. The keep volunteering voluntary agreement. http:// (accessed 14 Oct 2014).
71 Apprenticeship Vacancy Matching Service. Apprenticeship vacancies: the one stop
shop for apprenticeships.
(accessed 22 Sep 2014).
72 Department for Education, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
Traineeships. Supporting young people to develop the skills for apprenticeships
and sustainable employment. Framework for Delivery. DFE-00117-2013. London:
Stationary Ofce, 2013:17.
73 Thomas J. Wirral wedding venue Thornton Manor hit with complaints after claims
cleaning job applicants were asked to work for free. Liverpool Echo, 12 Dec 2014.
thornton-manor-8276462 (accessed 14 Dec 2014).
74 Scottish Community Development Centre. Asset alliance Scotland: event report.
Glasgow: SCDC, 2011:3.
(accessed 23 Jun 2012).
75 Day K. Patronising Teamwork Excersise Number 5,348 (or something). The Joy of
the Jobcentre Work Programme [blog], 16 Aug 2013. http://soisthismylifenow. (accessed 12
Sep 2013).
76 Crisp R, Fletcher D. A comparative review of workfare programmes in the United
States, Canada and Australia. DWP. Research Report number 533. 2008.
77 Department for Work and Pensions. Day one support for young people trailblazer:
A preliminary Impact Analysis. Nov 2014.
trailblazer-impact-analysis.pdf (accessed 15 Dec 2014).
78 Portes J. The Help to Workpilots: success, failure or somewhere in between?
NIESR [blog], 29 Dec 2013.
or-somewhere-between#.VDxY1UulmlJ (accessed 3 May 2014).
79 McSmith A, Cash J. Jobless must sign on every day: Government to dock money
from long-term unemployed if they do not comply. The Independent, 28 Apr
9294586.html (accessed 3 May 2014).
80 Rahim N, Kotecha M, Chanfreau J, et al.Evaluation of support for the very long-
term unemployed trailblazer. Department for Work and Pensions. Report number:
824, 2012.
the-very-long-term-unemployed-trailblazer-rr824 (accessed 2 Sep 2013).
81 Anonymous. Email to: Boycott Workfare. (
82 Koksal I. Adventures at A4e.Izzy Koksal [blog], 13 Apr 2012. http://izzykoksal. (accessed 12 Sep 2014).
83 Gissajob. Re: My battle with WP. Unemployment Movement [forum], 5 Mar 2012.
wp?start=14 (accessed 3 Nov 2013).
84 Buckner M. Comment on: Whistle while you work (for nothing):positive affect as
coercive strategythe case of workfare.
workfare/ (accessed 3 Oct 2014).
85 Holehouse M. Welfare claimants to get attitude tests employment minister reveals.
The Telegraph, 5 Sept 2014.
Welfare-claimants-to-get-attitude-tests-employment-minister-reveals.html (accessed
7 Sep 2014).
86 Ingeus. Healthy attitudes for living. Ingeus, 2010.
87 Void J. Pauline Got Promoted! DWP Management Psychobabble Is Turning
Jobcentres Into Cults. the void [blog], 17 Dec 2014. http://johnnyvoid.wordpress.
jobcentres-into-cults/ (accessed 17 Dec 2014).
88 Anonymous. Email to: Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty. (
89 Cooper N, Dumpleton S. Walking the breadline: the scandal of food poverty in
21st century Britain. Oxfam with Church Action on Poverty, 2013. http://policy-
poverty-in-21st-century-britain-292978 (accessed 2 Sep 2014).
90 MacInnes T. Are sanctions driving people off JSA? New Policy Institute [blog],7
Nov 2013.
driving-people-jsa/ (accessed 3 Dec 2013).
91 Community Work Placements: DWP provider guidance. Department for Work and
Pensions, 2014:4.
placements-dwp-provider-guidance (accessed 3 Jul 2014).
92 Ingeus. Common thinking traps. Ingeus, 2010.
93 skwalker1964. DWP: fake psych testtraining given by unqualied experts.The
Skwawkbox [blog], 4 Jul 2013.
dwp-fake-psych-test-training-given-by-unqualied-experts/ (accessed 8 Aug 2014).
94 Day K. How Work Programme Makes Me Feel. The Joy of the Jobcentre Work
Programme [blog], 18 Aug 2013.
how-work-programme-makes-me-feel.html (accessed 4 Sep 2013).
95 False Economy. UK Cuts and Testimonies.
(accessed 27th Sep 2014).
96 Walsh J and Guardian Readers. Even the sight of a CV would give me an anxiety
attack: Guardian Readers on benet sanctions. The Guardian, 5 Sep 2014. http://
an-anxiety-attack-guardian-readers-on-benet-sanctions (accessed 15 Aug 2014).
97 DWP Unspun. A selection of especially stupid benet sanctions. 12 Jul 2014. (accessed 19 Sep 2014).
98 British Psychological Society. Tests for jobseekers must be ethical. 12 Sep 2014. http:// (accessed 19 Sep 2014).
99 Slater T. Review of Imogen Tyler, Revolting Subjects: Social Abjection and
Resistance in Neoliberal Britain.Antipode, Sep 2013. http://radicalantipode.les. 2013 (accessed 16 May
100 McRuer R. Crip theory: cultural signs of queerness and disability. New York:
New York University Press, 2006.
101 Duffy S. The citizenship theory of social justice: exploring the meaning of
personalisation for social workers. J Soc Work Pract 2010;24(3):25367.
102 Friedli L. What weve tried hasnt worked: the politics of asset based public health
Crit Public Health 2012;23(2):13145.
Friedli L, et al.Med Humanit 2015;41:4047. doi:10.1136/medhum-2014-010622 47
Critical medical humanities
... However, the banking crisis of 2008 resulted in new priorities in the governmental function of psychology and psychotherapy, with the focus shifting from the employed to the unemployed. Friedli and Stearn (2015) have shown how clinical psychology and therapy have become incorporated into government action directed against benefit claimants. A range of psychological "assessments" and "interventions" now control the lives of hundreds of thousands of citizens with disabilities and mental health problems, through the use of what they call psychocompulsion, the imposition of psychological explanations for an individual's unemployment. ...
... " Recovery in the Bin uses the term "UnRecovered" as a form of self-definition to contrast it politically with "Recovered. " The techniques of psychocompulsion described by Friedli and Stearn (2015) based in positive psychology are "being used to pacify patients and stifle collective dissent" (RITB 2015, 1, emphasis in the original). The group argues that autonomy and self-determination can only be achieved through collective action rather than through individualistic striving. ...
... Both policies have proved controversial; the bedroom tax , or 'underoccupancy penalty' to give it its official title, which sees social tenants lose up to 25% of housing benefit payments for having unoccupied bedrooms (Gibb, 2015: 148, 158), has led to financial hardship amongst those already disadvantaged, and the breaking of essential community support networks upon which these people rely (Gibb, 2015;Moffatt et al, 2016). Similarly, workfare policies such as 'mandatory work activity' and the 'community action programme', have proved problematic in that they have stigmatised the unemployed at a time of job losses, normalised the idea of subminimum wage labour, and seen increasingly harsh sanctions applied for noncompliance (Friedli and Stearn, 2015). Coverage of zero-hour contracts and food 4 bank reliance was taken from the period 2014-2016. ...
Background/aims Healthcare professionals play an important role in vocational rehabilitation for people receiving welfare support. The research questions for this study were: how do qualified healthcare professionals operate in UK welfare-to-work settings? What factors influence healthcare professionals' practice within a UK welfare-to-work setting? Methods A qualitative methodology was adopted. Four semi-structured interviews were conducted and additional documents (the awarded Work and Health Programme bids and job descriptions) about the healthcare professionals' roles were reviewed. Inductive thematic analysis was undertaken. Results Five themes were generated from the interview data: supporting frontline staff to understand clients' health needs; moving clients with complex needs closer to work; getting it right for the client by individualising support; gaining consent and maintaining confidentiality; and seeking and organising clinical supervision. These themes were corroborated with the document data. Conclusions Healthcare professionals have a key role within welfare-to-work provision. Further research is needed to determine if the proposed healthcare professional roles have come to fruition, to identify their prevalence, and to explore their effectiveness.
Full-text available
This article describes the key findings of a study which critically analyses the construction of social class within UK media during the period 2010–2016 – part of the ‘age of austerity’. Focusing upon 240 newspaper articles covering six topics (emergency budget, welfare reform, workfare, bedroom tax, food banks and zero-hour contracts), the study provides critical insights into how class is constructed in an important context: namely that of economic downturn and rising inequality. The findings suggest that a pro-austerity discourse dominates the coverage. Here austerity is described as necessary, and the idea of ‘unavoidable scarcity’ forms the basis for a ‘moral divide’ between a vague in-group – the ‘ordinary hardworking people’, defined by their idealised struggle and selfless sense of duty – and an exploitative ‘other’. This both legitimises austerity and masks its broader impact. As the impacts become more apparent, however, challenges to the dominant narrative begin to appear. In the course of these challenges, the struggle inherent to class is placed back on the agenda, and class is increasingly constructed as an ‘anxious concept’ – a slippery slope down which one might fall.
Austerity and welfare reforms – such as Universal Credit (UC) – are changing the ways in which care is delivered in the UK, increasing the precarity of individuals and the organisations who care for them. New cultures of care are emerging as a result. We show how an emplaced affect of ‘edgy-ness’ shaped a culture of care within third-sector organisations and housing associations working in Cornwall, UK. Drawing on a collaborative project consisting of four housing associations and four VCSOs, we explore ‘edgy-ness’ as one specific affect of precarity through an analysis of practitioners’ narratives of the project and its success.
In this paper, we examine a number of approaches that propose new models for psychiatric theory and practices: in the way that they incorporate ‘social’ dimensions, in the way they involve ‘communities’ in treatment, in the ways that they engage mental health service users, and in the ways that they try to shift the power relations within the psychiatric encounter. We examine the extent to which ‘alternatives’ – including ‘Postpsychiatry’, ‘Open Dialogue’, the ‘Power, Threat and Meaning Framework’ and Service User Involvement in Research – really do depart from mainstream models in terms of theory, practice and empirical research and identify some shortcomings in each. We propose an approach which seeks more firmly to ground mental distress within the lifeworld of those who experience it, with a particular focus on the biopsychosocial niches within which we make our lives, and the impact of systematic disadvantage, structural violence and other toxic exposures within the spaces and places that constitute and constrain many everyday lives. Further, we argue that a truly alternative psychiatry requires psychiatric professionals to go beyond simply listening to the voices of service users: to overcome epistemic injustice requires professionals to recognise that those who have experience of mental health services have their own expertise in accounting for their distress and in evaluating alternative forms of treatment. Finally we suggest that, if ‘another psychiatry’ is possible, this requires a radical reimagination of the role and responsibilities of the medically trained psychiatrist within and outside the clinical encounter.
Full-text available
This is how people communicate: This is how neurons communicate: Transmitter Receptor Neurotransmitter Neuroreceptor "(External Language -Lexical sense ).(Internal Language-Human sense )
Full-text available
The idea of the active welfare subject has become irresistible to both policy makers and academics and has taken a lead role in the transformation of twenty-first century social security systems. Two distinguishable approaches have emerged – the dominant model and a counter model. The dominant model emphasises moralised individual responsibility for 'wrong choices' and mandates behavioural change to become active. The counter model situates benefit recipients in the present as disempowered creative, reflexive and resourceful beings. This article develops conceptualisations by comparing benefit recipients' accounts (from an exploratory qualitative study) of lived experience with both models.
The publication of this manifesto could hardly have come at a more important moment. Not just because, as the authors signal, there is a crisis in psychological explanations, but because psychology faces a wider moral and ethical crisis. An early version of some of the ideas in this paper was presented (with Robert Stearn) at the Critical Medical Humanities Symposium, 4–5 November 2013 ( )
This book is about the lives of individuals and families living in or near poverty – despite their enduring commitment to work and repeated engagement with jobs. It uncovers first-hand the realities of life in low-pay, no-pay Britain for millions of workers facing the new precariousness of employment. Rooted in long-term research and in-depth interviews with men and women, younger and older people, employers and welfare-to-work agencies in Teesside, North East England - Poverty and Insecurity tells a cautionary tale about the meaning and implication of poor, insecure and low-waged work for an increasing number of people caught up in this low-pay, no-pay cycle in Britain. It argues that ‘poor work’ and precariousness have become the defining conditions of life for much of the working class under contemporary capitalism. Running directly counter to current political and policy orthodoxies that see the poor and unemployed as workshy and welfare dependent - and that ‘employment is always the best route out of poverty’ - the book describes how people remained poor despite (and sometimes because) of their repeated engagement with jobs. Churning between poor work and welfare – the low-pay, no-pay cycle – is, the authors argue, ignored by politicians and policy makers but increasingly characteristic of much working life in the flexibilised labour markets of late capitalism. The empirical substance of this book makes the real lives of working people living in poverty visible and stands as a corrective to the prejudicial modern-day myth-making so beloved of tabloid editors, social commentators and politicians.
While joblessness is by no means a phenomenon specific to this century, the concept of 'unemployment' is. This book follows the invention and transformation of unemployment, understood as a historically specific site of regulation. Taking key aspects of the history of unemployment in Britain as its focus, it argues that the ways in which authorities have defined and sought to manage the jobless have been remarkably varied. In tracing some of the different constructions of unemployment over the last 100 years - as a problem of 'character', as a social 'risk', or today, as a problem of 'skills' - the study highlights the discursive dimension of social and economic policy problems. The book examines such institutionalized practices as the labour bureau, unemployment insurance, and the 'New Deal' as 'technologies' of power. The result is a challenge to our thinking about welfare states.
Lauren Berlant explores individual and collective affective responses to the unraveling of the U.S. and European economies by analzying mass media, literature, television, film, and video.
Crip Theory attends to the contemporary cultures of disability and queerness that are coming out all over. Both disability studies and queer theory are centrally concerned with how bodies, pleasures, and identities are represented as "normal" or as abject, but Crip Theory is the first book to analyze thoroughly the ways in which these interdisciplinary fields inform each other. Drawing on feminist theory, African American and Latino/a cultural theories, composition studies, film and television studies, and theories of globalization and counter-globalization, Robert McRuer articulates the central concerns of crip theory and considers how such a critical perspective might impact cultural and historical inquiry in the humanities. Crip Theory puts forward readings of the Sharon Kowalski story, the performance art of Bob Flanagan, and the journals of Gary Fisher, as well as critiques of the domesticated queerness and disability marketed by the Millennium March, or Bravo TV's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. McRuer examines how dominant and marginal bodily and sexual identities are composed, and considers the vibrant ways that disability and queerness unsettle and re-write those identities in order to insist that another world is possible.