University of Sussex
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A difficult set of circumstances? Lone mothers and social exclusion in Woodland View

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posted on 2023-06-08, 17:17 authored by Barbara Eva Holler
This thesis explores how poor, single mothers on benefits experienced discourses of welfare and social exclusion within the context of New Labour's policy measures. This research is based on thirty-six months ethnographic fieldwork conducted between 2007 and 2011 on a housing estate in the South of England among single mothers on benefits. The researcher studied how New Labour social policy initiatives had an impact on their lives. This study argues that while social exclusion and its flexibility constituted a tool to explore multi-dimensional aspects of poverty, the same term had come to entail a much more narrow focus under New Labour. The effects of such a shift in terms of providing services to mothers on benefits provided the framework through which the participants viewed dominant discourses on welfare and social exclusion. In doing so this thesis exposes the contestations and tensions that permeate much of these discourses. In interviews and discussions carried out during the fieldwork, many women located described the official political discourse as an external phenomenon with which they strategically engage, while also internalising it and accepting it as an accurate representation of social reality. On the other hand, most participants critically engaged with the dominant discourse and almost all traversed a tightrope of moral evaluation. This study argues that the importance of placing the experiences of single mothers on benefits in the context of welfare reform measures cannot be overestimated because it offers an understanding of how different social groups experience new social policies. It also suggests the possibility to evaluate the the deeper societal struggles and it constitutes an opportunity to reform existing economic, political and social structures. This thesis shows that the tendency to morally condemn poor and unemployed citizens has been part of social policy landscape in the United Kingdom for a very long time. These include ongoing changes to the welfare system, focusing on key elements such as penalising the unemployed and privatising public services.


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