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The Category Game and its Impact on Street-Level Bureaucrats and Jobseekers: An Australian Case Study

  • Siobhan O’Sullivan (a1), Michael McGann (a2) and Mark Considine (a3)


A key question concerning the marketisation of employment services is the interaction between performance management systems and frontline client-selection practices. While the internal sorting of clients for employability by agencies has received much attention, less is known about how performance management shapes official categorisation practices at the point of programme referral. Drawing on case studies of four Australian agencies, this study examines the ways in which frontline staff contest how jobseekers are officially classified by the benefit administration agency. With this assessment pivotal in determining payment levels and activity requirements, we find that reassessing jobseekers so they are moved to a more disadvantaged category, suspended, or removed from the system entirely have become major elements of casework. These category manoeuvres help to protect providers from adverse performance rankings. Yet, an additional consequence is that jobseekers are rendered fully or partially inactive, within the context of a system designed to activate.



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