Public services and the consumer: Empowerment or control?

Stephen Gilliatt, John Fenwick, Daniel Alford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


This discussion provides a critical perspective on the growth of consumerism in social policy and public life. Debates around consumer and producer interests are examined before suggesting that a 'responsible consumer' has emerged: A service-user increasingly expected to take on a greater role in managing the conditions under which services are provided. It is argued that such consumerism, far from empowering the individual consumer, has served to co-opt service-users into the management of scarcity, rationing, and/or technological change. It is further argued, on the basis of empirical observations in three public service areas, that different groups of people differ in the degree to which they are able, or willing, to take on the new responsibilities of the consumer. This is linked to an outline of how further empirical research may be developed. A typology is offered which seeks to illuminate the act of consumption-including the importance of language, the introduction of technology and the widening physical separation of producer and consumer. It is suggested that the boundaries between producer and consumer responsibility are far from settled. However, as consumers have been expected to take on greater responsibilities, and as the public organization has become more flexible, we have witnessed a process of producer empowerment rather than consumer empowerment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)333-349
JournalSocial Policy and Administration
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2000


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