Spatial creaming and parking? The case of the UK Work Programme

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Public policies are inherently spatial in nature yet their geographical dimensions remain frequently underdeveloped and marginalised in policy practice and scholarship. This paper reflects critically on these common spatial blind spots, using as its case study example the UK's Work Programme employment support policy. Whilst social 'creaming' (i.e. deliberate prioritisation) and 'parking' (i.e. deliberate neglect) by providers of differently placed service users within public policies is widely acknowledged and researched, this paper introduces to the literature equivalent but neglected risks around spatial creaming and parking of differently positioned local areas. The paper's framing identifies that the Work Programme's particular treatment of place exposes areas to high risks of spatial creaming and parking. Building on these critical spatial foundations, the paper moves on to present sophisticated statistical analyses of official and comprehensive Work Programme data. These original analyses demonstrate systematic spatial inequality in outcomes and financial resource that are at the expense of already more deprived geographies and that are consistent with our spatial creaming and parking hypotheses. The paper highlights the need to consider more fully the role of place within public policy practice and scholarship.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)135-152
Number of pages18
JournalApplied Spatial Analysis and Policy
Issue number1
Early online date14 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2021


  • activation
  • creaming and parking
  • employment support
  • outcomes-based commissioning
  • spatial inequality
  • spatial public policy


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