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The significance of social enterprises in the reform of the British welfare state

Edwards, Sarah Elizabeth (2003) The significance of social enterprises in the reform of the British welfare state University of Southampton, Faculty of Science Geography, Doctoral Thesis , 284pp.

Record type: Thesis (Doctoral)


Increasingly, the United Kingdom Government is looking towards the social economy to deliver
welfare services. The social economy, and specifically social enterprises, are envisaged by New
Labour as having the ability to train and employ those disadvantaged in the labour market; engage
individuals and communities in service provision and urban renewal; and, provide a model for future
forms of welfare service provision. This research investigates the links between the social enterprise
and the welfare reforms initiated by New Labour. In addition, the research considers the
implications of an expanded role for social enterprises in welfare from the perspective of social
enterprise practitioners. Using a grounded theory research design, and qualitative research
methodologies, those running social enterprises in the cities of London and Bristol were interviewed
(during the summer of 2001). This data, alongside policy documents, ministerial speeches,
newspaper articles, think tank publications, and interviews with policy-makers and advocates for the
social enterprise sector, provide the evidence presented here.

The research develops a definition of the social enterprise as an organisation that uses a commercial
venture as a tool to achieve social change. It is shown that the term 'social enterprise' refers to a
diverse range of organisations that differ in legal and organisational structure and social mission, but
which are linked by the common purpose of service delivery. The research reveals a subtle but
important difference between social enterprise activity, and social enterprise as a business model. In
spite of their diversity, it is demonstrated that a typology of social enterprises can be constructed by
using the attributes identified by those running such organisations. This typology takes into account
a diverse range of attributes that coalesce to form this hybrid social institution, instead of considering
their organisational structure or social mission as defining features, as has been the case in the past.

Using discourse analysis, social enterprises are shown to be significant within welfare reform
because they embody the attributes that advocates for reform wish to promote. Social enterprises are
shown to embody the postmodern attributes of'empowerment' and tailored localised service
provision, alongside the politically attractive attributes of'enterprise', 'effectiveness', and
'efficiency'. These attributes offer 'challenges' to existing forms of public and third sector welfare
provision. Through these challenges, the discourse of social enterprise is instrumental in current
changes in welfare, not only in changing the practices of service delivery, but more significantly, in
changing the culture and the way in which 'solutions' in welfare are sought.

The thesis demonstrates how the notion of social enterprise is intertwined with broader academic
debates concerning the scale and scope of the emerging postmodern welfare state, and the social
enterprise is shown to be emblematic of those changes in welfare at a theoretical level. At a
practical level, the social enterprise appears to be unlikely to have significant impact on the mainstay
of the welfare state. However, it is suggested here that policy-makers need to take greater
consideration of the 'appropriateness' of applying the social enterprise model in welfare than is the
case at present.

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Published date: July 2003
Organisations: University of Southampton


Local EPrints ID: 192763
PURE UUID: 9b968f9f-104e-4981-9bc1-53591ed20d3f

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Date deposited: 12 Jul 2011 13:36
Last modified: 18 Jul 2017 11:31

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Author: Sarah Elizabeth Edwards
Thesis advisor: Colin Mason
Thesis advisor: Meric Gertler

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