Looking back at the Party Conferences and forward to the General Election?

For many British social policy analysts, New Labour has been a disappointment and the differences between the current regime and a potential Cameron-led one are too few. However, my recent book, written with Lewis Williams, suggests that a long hard look at the longer term policy changes since 1979 can tell us quite a bit about what a return to a Conservative Government would bring and how that would compare to both New and Old Labour.

The book, A generation of change, a lifetime of difference? Social policy in Briton since 1979, looks at the past 30 years of changes in benefits and taxation and shows what has changed, for whom and with what results. We use a new and nifty approach by simulating what it would be like to live a whole life under the rules in place in 1979, 1997 and 2008. This captures the whole lifetime welfare state from the cradle to the grave for three model families:

The Lowes: low earners earning half median wages
The Meades: median earners
The Moores: high earners earning twice median wages

New Labour have done a lot to help children and pensioners, especially the Lowes, and the improvements for these groups since 1997 is marked. Old Labour’s approach was heavier on taxation and the Moores paid a lot more but got some benefits nevertheless. Old Labour also had very generous state pensions and help if you were out of a job – a problem that affects the Lowes and the Meades more than the Moores. New Labour and the Conservatives are now closer on taxation and on the treatment of those out of work, and the benefit levels for the latter have been allowed to erode to very low levels indeed.

If you are trying to make sense of the policies that will be announced between now and the General Election and put them into a bigger perspective, read the book and see just how much has changed and just what a potential difference a swing back to the Conservatives may mean.

Martin Evans

Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Social Policy and Social Work at the University of Oxford and co-author of A generation of change, a lifetime of difference? Social policy in Briton since 1979

Visit The Policy Press website at http://www.policypress.co.uk

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