Fiddly Jobs, Undeclared Work and the Something for Nothing Society

Robert MacDonald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

171 Citations (Scopus)


Whilst it may be easy to dismiss ideological diatribes about 'a something for nothing society' as empty rhetoric, there are relatively few recent studies with which to assess claims about 'benefit scroungers' and 'dole fiddlers'. Qualitative methods were employed to explore the ways in which some working-class people in an economically depressed locality did 'fiddly jobs' (i.e. working 'undeclared' whilst in receipt of unemployment benefits). The research explored the motivations underpinning fiddly work and the normative values surrounding it. Informants expressed a clear and conservative morality which stood at odds with descriptions of a 'welfare underclass' or 'dependency culture': most common types of fiddling (irregular, low-paid, temporary) were economically necessary and were done (usually by men) in order to support household incomes and to preserve self-respect. Fiddly work was distributed through local social networks which allowed a minority to maintain an involvement with work culture and to avoid some of the worst material and social psychological consequences of unemployment. Thus fiddly jobs in sub-contracted and other sectors of casualised work are part of a survival strategy through which some people develop alternative ways of working in the face of restricted avenues for legitimate employment and a system of benefits which failed to meet people&s material needs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)507-530
Number of pages24
JournalWork Employment & Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 1994
Externally publishedYes


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