The individual’s chief
responsibility is to search for work, hence to participate in the (labour) market. The provision of a state income has thus become a means of commodifying rather than decommodifying labour.
Graham Room (2000) develops the concept of ‘decommodification for selfdevelopment’,
meaning welfare systems which, through educational provision and subsequent work satisfaction, can develop the individual rather than simply cater for his/her physical consumption needs via income replacement.
Yet an assessment of New Labour policy using the concepts reviewed in this article leads to almost the opposite conclusion. The welfare system being constructed by New Labour aims at increasingly educating/training people to be workers (in the narrow sense), rather than develop them as individuals (in the widest sense). This process is not, therefore, to do with decommodification; rather, it is about enhancing the commodity status of labour through increasing the productivity of individual workers and through increasing the efficiency
of the labour market as a whole. Whilst modern capitalism may offer more scope for satisfaction through work than in Marx’s time, the role of economic and social policy is increasingly concerned not with this, but with narrow productivist goals. Under New Labour this state-organised ‘recommodification’ has been extended also to those groups for whom it was previously more acceptable not to engage in paid employment. Thus single mothers must attend work-focused interviews where they are offered assistance to find work through the New Deal for Lone Parents, and a subsidy to work through tax credits. Similarly, measures have
been put in place to encourage disabled people into work. The New Deal for Disabled People has involved a range of local pilot projects and a national scheme of ‘job brokers’ who will mediate between disabled job seekers and potential employers.