Welfare as control: contradiction, dilemma and compromise
Informed by particular theories of migration and of new global migrations as problematic European states, pulled by both exclusionary particularist and inclusionary universalist tensions, have taken increasing measures to restrict access to ‘unwanted’ forced migrants to their territories and welfare states. To these ends governments have devised welfare policies for forced migrants which are simultaneously mechanisms of deterrence and internal immigration control, in tension with their obligations to protect refugees. These are systems of ‘Welfare as Control’. 1990s UK legislation has increasingly eroded and separated asylum seekers’ social rights, culminating in the “qualitative leap” (Cohen, 2001) of the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act (IAA), which introduced a separate and inferior welfare ‘safety net’ for asylum seekers, explicitly designed to control their migration externally and internally. These legislations have implicated welfare and social care workers in implementing welfare fraught with tensions of control. In their 1999 IAA New Labour extended this to utilise voluntary sector agencies to implement key sections of the deterrent ‘safety net.’ An intensive ethnographic case study grounded in critical realism was undertaken with a voluntary sector organisation in this contradictory positioning of delivering Welfare as Control, as a Reception Assistant for the Home Office’s National Asylum Support Service (NASS). Using observation and gathering insider accounts and documents over eight months in 2002-2003, the ethnography explored the lived experiences, practices and understandings of service providers and people seeking asylum, in this everyday world at Refugee Arrivals Project. The setting resonated with tensions, dilemmas and compromises. RAP’s autonomy was constrained by NASS’ chaos, bureaucratic dominance and imperative to restrict and control access to welfare, compromising the organisation’s ability to address clients’ often ‘complex and multiple’ needs. Asylum seekers experienced “anormalised” (Geddes, 2001) lives, loss of autonomy and dignity in Reception, feeling they were “hanging” out of control in multiple uncertainties, with those the safety net was designed to protect, often least protected. Although RAP used their discretion and ethical urges to increase the “informal gain” and fill the gaps of social rights in practice, (Morris, 2002), their integrity was threatened. This research contributes to a new ‘Sociology of Forced Migration’ (Castles, 2003) and has implications for all voluntary and public sector agencies and workers embroiled in delivering ‘Third Way’ policy generally, but specifically Welfare as Control.