How welfare reform does and does not happen: a qualitative study of local implementation of childcare policy
thesisposted on 27.06.2013, 14:39 by Pamela Joy Carter
This thesis explores tensions within UK childcare policy and welfare reform. Through an ethnographic study of policy implementation, I examine themes of government, governance and governmentality. The evidence based policy movement assumes that the nature of evidence is self-evident but ethnographic data reveals how implementers draw on cultural resources of interpretive repertoires, myth and symbolism to make sense of policy. Central Government structures the policy implementation process with a “core offer”, hypothecated funding, a timetable and targets. Local policy actors manage implementation partly through tick box performative practices but they stretch time and juggle money. Implementation practices comprise branding, reification and commodification processes and the design of elastic policy products. Change and stasis are both in evidence with time-scales experienced variously as tight, as long running or as plus ça change. The community is produced as subject and object of governance, as an agent of change and a site for policy intervention. This glosses over childcare as women’s issue, market tensions and social class determinants of child poverty. Drawing on a range of theoretical resources and using the analogy of a palimpsest I show how discursive governance achieves a temporary policy settlement. This is neither workfare nor welfare but an unanticipated creative set of outcomes, exemplified in a circus project. I reveal some relatively hidden aspects of public policy and analyse give-away artefacts as hyper-visible policy manifestations. Commitment to a public service ethos is in evidence with policy implementers exercising their discretion in the interstices of market and state bureaucratic governance regimes. The Sure Start brand moves on from a flagship programme to Sure Start Children’s Centres but a novel Community Learning Partnership struggles to tug the oil tanker of children’s welfare services in a radically new direction or solve the wicked issue of child poverty.