• Samuel Strong

The Work of Looking for Work

In this blog post, I include a short summary of my recently published chapter: 'The work of looking for work: Surviving without a wage in Austerity Britain.' The chapter appears in Beyond the Wage: Ordinary Work in Diverse Economies, published by Bristol University Press in 2021.

Beyond the Wage

This chapter emerged from a conference that took place at Queen Mary University of London in 2018 - that brought together scholars of work and employment from around the world.

In my chapter, I focus on people's changing experiences of work - both waged, and informal - during the UK's 'age of austerity.' I draw on the story of one of my interlocutors from my research in the Valleys of south Wales, called Jeff, which reveals the changing constellations of power and politics today.

Jeff's story: The work of looking for work

Jeff has been unemployed in the Valleys for 8 years. He originally moved to the area to take up a job in the electronics sector, but the long term processes of deindustrialisation meant his employment was suddenly stopped when he was made redundant. Without the capital at his disposal to leave the area, Jeff has since remained in the Valleys - struggling to make ends meet, and often undertaking desperate tasks in order to survive.

The Jobcentre hasn't helped. Without sustainable or accessible employment in the area, Jeff feels like he has been left on the scrapheap. Moreover, he feels like the endless hoops he has to jump through, set by the Jobcentre, make it even harder to survive at a time of diminishing income. He came afoul of these processes explicitly when he was made homeless, and was sanctioned. Together, these more callous and punitive actions of the state engender new forms of work in Jeff's life - what I call the work of looking for work.

Working to survive without a wage

Despite this, Jeff does survive. He does so by drawing on the solidarity, help and support of his local area and community. Volunteering at his local food bank, doing odd jobs for neighbours, and sharing what food he has reveal the wider network of informal acts and forms of being in common that shape his landscape of survival.

These forms of work also give Jeff a sense of dignity, and a sense of purpose. But, as I conclude in the chapter, these forms of work cannot replace the loss of a wage - precisely because we remain tethered to a social model where work is seen as the route to citizenship. In places like the Valleys, Jeff and countless others remain stuck - unable to achieve this route, and yet being placed under greater pressures to do so.