Reversing the Negative Experience of Unemployment: A Mediating Role for Social Policies?

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This paper examines why unemployment is often experienced in a profoundly negative way and explores the potentially mediating role of social policies. Three dominant theories of unemployment are described, which are often treated as competing, mutually exclusive explanations of the deleterious effects of unemployment. Subsequently, and through drawing upon a qualitative study of unemployed people, it is argued that all three theories are of worth and can be synthesized into a broader explanation of the experience of unemployment as an overarching process of loss. Three forms of loss are identified: loss of agency, loss of the functions of paid work and loss of social status. The paper then explores how these forms of loss can be both ameliorated and intensified through social policy interventions. Concluding, it offers policy recommendations to increase the efficacy of social policies in reversing the negative experience of unemployment, with the conclusion that this will require significant reform of the UK welfare state.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Policy and Administration
Early online date20 Jun 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20 Jun 2017


  • unemployment
  • active labour market programmes
  • wellbeing
  • welfare-to-work
  • Work Programme.

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