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The ‘Deserving’ and the ‘Undeserving’: Practice in an Urban, Local Social Security Office*

  • L.E.A. Howe (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 January 2009

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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D. Fraser (1973), The Evolution of the British Welfare State, Macmillan, London.

M. Hill (1969), ‘The exercise of discretion in the National Assistance Board’, Public Administration, 47, 7590.

M. Hill (1981), Understanding Social Policy. Martin Robertson, Oxford.

M. Rein (1983), From Policy to Practice, Macmillan, London.

D.J. Smith (1980), ‘How unemployment makes the poor poorer’, Policy Studies, 1, 20–6. Supplementary Benefits Commission (1978), Take-up of Supplementary Benefits, SBC Administrative Papers No. 7, HMSO, London.

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Journal of Social Policy
  • ISSN: 0047-2794
  • EISSN: 1469-7823
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-social-policy
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