I’m interested in the complex and contested relationship between mental health and social justice.
George Osborne’s parable of the shift worker – leaving for work in early morning darkness, while behind closed blinds, his neighbour sleeps away life on benefits – is the starting point for an exploration of policy and public debate on work and worklessness, on unearned rest and mandatory unpaid activity. These themes are central to workfare and the emergence of unemployment as a space of profound busyness: the disappearance of rest from the lives of job seekers as they enter a lengthening round of searching for work, training for work and unpaid work experience.
My exploration will focus on four areas: (1)the lived experience of mandatory ‘labour on the self’ via work programme skills training catalogued in blogs and personal testimonies; (2) how discourses of positive affect, central to workfare, serve to disrupt the possibility of rest in the endless task of working to create an ’employable self’ (3) the tension between policy, academic research and work programme contractors on the outcomes of all this busyness (4) spaces of resistance e.g. Boycott Workfare and related campaigns, where traditional critiques of work are finding new expression and new forms in acts of opposition to mandatory unpaid labour as a condition of receiving social security.