Labour Markets and Employment Policy series
Edited by Jacqueline O’Reilly
Chapter 8: Re-regulating transitions? Continuity and change in the UK
Mark Smith The UK labour market has long been characterized by a low level of regulation in comparison with other European countries. The 1980s saw the erosion of the limited labour market legislation in an attempt to reduce employment protection, beneﬁt levels and trade union rights. These developments, it can be argued, reinforced the UK’s production regime characterized by the ‘vicious circle’ of a low-wage, low-value economy (Rubery, 1994). Furthermore, the welfare state regime has moved towards the liberal model (Esping-Andersen, 1990), providing only minimal income and protection for those in need and making the low-paid work on oﬀer ‘more attractive’. This has helped polarize labour supply patterns between households with work and those excluded from the labour market. The system of welfare is largely based upon a male breadwinner with little support for women trying to balance work and family life. This combination of weak labour market regulation and a liberal welfare regime has created particular problems in relation to transitions into employment and between employment statuses. The barriers to ‘integrative transitions’ (Bothfeld and O’Reilly, 2000, p.139) in the UK may diﬀer from those in other European countries but are nonetheless signiﬁcant and help shape the speciﬁc employment and activity patterns. In 1997, a new Labour government marked an end to 18 years of Conservative rule. Although the change of government signalled a change to some of the policies of the previous administration, many elements of previous policies were retained. As with any societal...
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