This article describes the processes of assessment and administration of certain aspects of the supplementary benefit scheme in a social security office in Northern Ireland. Based on evidence obtained observing staff-claimant interaction and interviews with over fifty unemployed claimants, the analysis attempts to demonstrate that a combination of resource constraints, staff attitudes and beliefs, and claimant tactics gives rise to practices which sustain and reproduce the categories ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ at the very same time that staff insist that such practices are actually intended to vitiate this distinction.
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