Mediating the claim? How ‘local ecosystems of support’ shape the operation and experience of UK social security
journal contributionposted on 2022-01-01, 00:00 authored by D Edmiston, D Robertshaw, D Young, Jo IngoldJo Ingold, A Gibbons, K Summers, L Scullion, B B Geiger, R de Vries
Local state and third sector actors routinely provide support to help people navigate their right to social security and mediate their chequered relationship to it. COVID-19 has not only underlined the significance of these actors in the claims-making process, but also just how vulnerable those working within ‘local ecosystems of support’ are to external shocks and their own internal pressures. Drawing on qualitative fieldwork with organisations providing support to benefit claimants and those financially struggling during COVID-19, this paper examines the increasingly situated nature of the claims-making process across four local areas in the United Kingdom. We do so to consider what bearing ‘local ecosystems of support’ have on income adequacy, access and universality across social security systems. Our analysis demonstrates how local state and third sector actors risk amplifying inequalities that at best disadvantage, and at worst altogether exclude, particular social groups from adequate (financial) assistance. Rather than conceiving of social security as a unitary collection of social transfers, we argue that its operation needs to be understood as much more fragmented and contingent. Practitioners exhibit considerable professional autonomy and moral agency in their discretionary practice, arbitrating between competing organisational priorities, local disinvestment, and changing community needs. Our findings offer broader lessons for understanding the contemporary governance of social security across welfare states seeking to responsibilise low-income households through the modernisation of public services, localism, and welfare reforms.