Abstract  This article challenges the idea that the construction of unemployment in turn-of-the-century Great Britain was an attempt simply to normalize employment relations by promoting regular work patterns. An analysis of the Booth survey in terms of the standard of life concept demonstrates the importance of the slum clearance problematic in bringing about the major rethink in policy thinking which ultimately led to the labour exchange project. The peculiar mobilisation patterns promoted by the labour exchange project reflect the difficulty or impossibility of delocalising industry or dock activity into the London suburbs.