chapter  14
12 Pages

A war on the poor: Constructing welfare and work in the twenty-first century

WithGreg Marston

Competing voices about the respective responsibility of citizens and governments has reached a

new level of intensity as national governments in countries such as the United States, the UK,

Canada and Australia implement a host of policies and programmes that are redrawing the

boundaries between public and private responsibility for social welfare. This historical transition

has been described as ‘the great risk shift’ (Hacker, 2006) – an expression that captures the indi-

vidualisation of social problems, which is promoted through social policies that aim to increase

reliance on the private market. Katz (1989) reminds us that contempt for the poor and support for

capitalism have always gone hand in hand – when people are measured by how much they

produce, those who produce little or nothing are judged the harshest of all. What is more

recent is the intensification of this conservative political discourse to the point where govern-

ments find it difficult to let the term ‘welfare’ stand alone. In the naming of policies aimed at

the poor and unemployed welfare must always be accompanied by the value of work, as in

‘welfare-to-work’ and ‘work-first’ policy programme descriptions. These policies conflate

work and welfare to the point where the receipt of welfare is conditional on completing state-

sanctioned work-related activities, a process Peck (2001) refers to as ‘workfare’.