Welfare-to-work at the street-level and in the household
: Coupled claimants, Work Coaches and third sector employment support staffs’ experiences of frontline delivery under Universal Credit

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This thesis explores how the UK’s active labour market policies are experienced and enacted at the street-level and in the household under Universal Credit. The introduction of Universal Credit saw a considerable shift in the UK’s welfare-to-work policy, through the merging of in-work and out-of-work benefits, and the extension of conditionality requirements. Wider welfare reform has also seen substantial organisational changes within the Department for Work and Pensions, including the creation of the Work Coach role, the digitalisation of services, and the development of quasi-markets in the delivery of welfare-to-work programmes. This new landscape raises important questions on how ‘personalised’ employment support and individualised conditionality is realised at the street-level, and, in particular, what a personalised approach means for couples, who are required to make a joint Universal Credit claim. Examining policy implementation, where policy emerges in practice through day-to-day decisions and interactions in frontline services, is critical for understanding the policy process, indeed, in the street-level bureaucracy literature, frontline staff themselves are positioned as policy makers. Thus the ‘street-level’, as both the location of frontline delivery, and as a key conceptual framework, forms the focus of this research. This thesis draws on three sources of qualitative interview data: interviews with 10 Work Coaches, interviews with 15 third sector employment support staff, and secondary analysis of longitudinal interviews with joint claimants from the ‘Couples balancing work, money and care: exploring the shifting landscape under Universal Credit’ Project. In bringing together these different perspectives, this thesis builds a more in-depth understanding of how decision-making at the street-level and in the household was shaped by the interactions and relationships between joint claimants, Work Coaches, and third sector staff. This thesis contributes to the street-level bureaucracy literature in two ways; first, this research advances an understanding of ‘users’ as active agents in accomplishing policy, through finding that household contexts and relationships, and how couples acted together, shaped approaches to complying with or negotiating conditionality requirements. Second, the UK’s welfare reform agenda created challenging contexts for Work Coaches and third sector staff to negotiate, and spaces for frontline staff to tailor active labour market policy and employment support were limited in practice.
Date of Award24 Apr 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorJane Millar (Supervisor), Nick Pearce (Supervisor) & Rachel Forrester-Jones (Supervisor)


  • welfare-to-work
  • street level bureaucracy
  • Universal Credit
  • active labour market policy

Cite this