Posts Tagged 'coalition'

The Conservatives and the future of social welfare

Under David Cameron’s leadership, prior to the 2010 general election the Conservatives sought to present a more ‘compassionate’ or ‘progressive’ face than under his immediate predecessors, with more socially liberal and inclusive rhetoric, and an emphasis upon the Party being more socially representative in its membership and particularly within parliament.

Since the election however, despite the necessity of forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, arguably the position of the Conservatives (and the government as a whole) has hardened significantly, not only with regard to reducing the deficit, but also across whole swathes of social policy. The government’s changes to social security, reforms of the NHS, changes to education, and proposals for ‘localism’, all have major implications for the ways in which services are delivered and experienced by individuals, and these are in addition to the likely impacts of substantial cuts in public expenditure.

Should the Coalition government persist until 2014 it seems probable that the shape of welfare services will be considerably different from now, with a smaller role for the state and a larger role for the private sector and potentially for social enterprises and the voluntary and community sector, although Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ remains amorphous, and its future uncertain. It is important, therefore, that we seek to understand what the provision of social policy could and should look like in the future.

Hugh Bochel, author of The Conservative Party and social policy, publishing this month

Policy & Politics: Rethinking the role of the state

The newly elected Coalition government has announced an eye-watering austerity budget, with more detail of cuts to come. Similar moves are being made by governments across the developed world. Alongside this fiscal retrenchment the Coalition wants to initiate a debate about the role of the state. Are public sector activities better located in the private or third sectors? We will have to wait to see quite what this means in practice. Will the state disengage completely from whole areas of activity? Or is it a question of pushing provision out of the public sector, with government continuing to fund services and exert strong regulatory control?

Such a rethink could present opportunities for third sector organisations. But it can also present significant challenges. Ann Nevile’s forthcoming paper in Policy & Politics provides a timely reminder of the potential tensions between output legitimacy – value for money services – and normative legitimacy – values and community connectedness – that government seeks from third sector providers. Her research reaffirms that the most important strategy for maintaining normative legitimacy is retaining a mixed funding base, even though the transaction costs associated with doing so are considerable. This strategy also helps maintain organisational flexibility and innovation.

We are only just beginning what could turn out to be a significant transformation of the welfare mix. Recognising the complex competing pressures and accountabilities facing third sector organisations will be a vital part of the debate.

Nevile, A. (2010) Drifting or holding firm? Public funding and the values of third sector organisations, Policy & Politics, advanced access.

Alex Marsh, Management Board, Policy & Politics

Are the first cuts the deepest?

What has happened as far as the tally of injustice goes since the election results came out? For a start the election made one of the graphs in Injustice: Why social inequality persists look slightly out of date. As predicted the Conservative segregation index rose even higher than before. If you have a copy of the book turn to page 175 and put an extra dot in the margin, where 2010 would be, at a height of 16.4%. What happened was that on May 6th 2010 the greatest swings towards the Conservatives occurred in the seats where they were most popular to begin with. This is a symptom of a still dividing country, but it is also a quite inefficient way to increase your support. Thus the Tories did not manage to secure an overall majority. They increased their vote most in the seats they already held. In some of the poorer parts of Britain, and especially in Scotland, the votes for Labour actually increased. The Liberals were squeezed out and lost seats in the middle of this polarisation. They ended up sharing power as no one could rule without them.

Today we saw the beginnings of what this increased political polarisation means, the very first cuts were announced. Among them George Osborne declared the demise ever slowly slightly redistributive Child Trust Fund, cutting payments of £320 million in 2010 and £520 million a year from 2011-2012. In the fund’s place he announced new funding of an almost charitable nature: An extra £20 million each year from 2011 being spent on addition respite care, 8000 one week long breaks for severely disabled children.

What you should expect is much more of this. Cutting something which is actually redistributive and replacing it with something that costs only a tenth as much and is useful but tokenistic – aimed at the most ‘deserving’ of cases. Thus some 4000 council houses will be built; a paltry number, but just enough to salve a few consciences. It would be very better to reduce the wealth of the richest so many gave up their spare homes which others could then use. Similarly, there would have been no need for a Child Trust Fund in the first place had income differential not widened under New Labour.

Other cost cutting is also indicative of what kind of the world the Conservative-Liberal coalition would like to see emerge. David Laws, the Liberal Chief Secretary to the treasury, suggested that the £45 million annual first class travel by public servants should be curtailed. This is good, but far better not to be running train carriages designed for different social classes into the twenty-first century in the first place. It is far simpler just to begin to abandon first class tickets for anyone, and the kind of thing a country that has just become a great deal poorer might have to begin to think of doing (to use track space more efficiently). Would David Cameron’s dream of a big society still have first and second class travel, with just public sector workers, students, families and lower private sector management and anyone else not quite like him in ‘economy’? I worry that is their dream. Too many still want a more unequal world.

Daniel Dorling, author of Injustice: Why social inequality persists


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