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Navigating the welfare system through advice centres: struggles for trust and solidarity in Manchester
In the last decade, welfare reform and budgets cuts in the United Kingdom have significantly changed the landscape of the benefit system. Along with tighter assessment and eligibility criteria, support for people in the form of face-to-face advice has been drastically cut. Consequently, independent advice centres are often the only spaces where claimants receive support to navigate the welfare system. The welfare advice sector in the UK thus plays an integral role in advice provision, and often forms a bridge between the claimant and the welfare state. Drawing on ethnographic research within an advice centre in Manchester, this paper focuses on the relations within the centre and its related struggles for trust and solidarity. Advisers often meet with clients who are highly distrustful of the state and who, instead, put their trust in these advisers. They usually act in solidarity with clients, helping them to navigate the welfare system in the best way possible. However, advisers still operate within the limits of the welfare bureaucracy, making for a complicated relationship. Funding requirements can also put restrictions who can receive advice and what this advice looks like. Furthermore, advisers are the main mediator between the claimant and the welfare state and therefore sometimes the bearers of bad news. The paper highlights the different roles advice centres and their advisers take up, and how they navigate these roles in relation to both their clients and the welfare system.