Posts Tagged 'Social Policy'

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

Choice moves up the public agenda

It’s encouraging to see that ideas around choice are creeping up the public agenda. Renata Salecl’s new book Choice in Profile’s big ideas series focuses on the tendency of increasing choice to create anxieties & so contribute to the air of anxiety that pervades modern (or is it post modern?) culture. This is not a view I would dissent from, though I would want to sugest that reactions to increased choice vary markedly between individuals, & probably over time for the same individual.
Meantime the introduction of more choice in public services, as against an emphasis on provision, seems to be emerging as one of the few issues separating the Milliband brothers in their pursuit of the Labour party leadership, with David, the true heir to Blair, being in favour of more choice as progressive & a worthwhile reform.
Michael Clarke, author of Challenging choices

Policy & Politics: Why do windows of opportunity close?

Quite apart from its practical importance, policy is an endlessly fascinating subject of study. A core theme in the analysis of policy is stability and change. Why do we witness extended periods of stability followed by episodes of change or periods of rapid change? In his 1984 book Agendas, alternatives and public policies, John Kingdon proposed a model based upon multiple streams. The alignment of the problem, policy and politics streams opens a window of opportunity for change. This model has been widely applied, including recently to US health care reform by Kingdon himself in the 2010 revised edition of his book (Kingdon, J.W. (2010) Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies (Updated Edition, with an Epilogue on Health Care), Longman).

An illuminating application of the model is offered by Annesley, Gains and Rummery in their recent paper analysing New Labour’s legacy on engendering politics and policy. The election of New Labour in 1997 appeared to open a window of opportunity for significant progress in the engendering of both politics and policy – and the authors are careful to maintain the distinction between the two. For reasons of both electoral calculation and values the New Labour government recognised gender as a significant policy issue. Annesley et al argue that New Labour’s attempts to engender politics could claim significant success. However, they examine two specific policy areas – change to leave for new parents and action to close the gender pay gap – and argue that the achievements in engendering policy were considerably more limited. They identify three broad reasons why policy change was modest, particularly in relation to the gender pay gap. All three speak to issues of great interest in the contemporary analysis of policy more generally. The first reason is the way the policy problem was framed: the focus was narrowed to the issue of women’s labour market participation and poverty, rather than the broader gender division of paid and unpaid labour. The second reason was the extent and speed with which the institutions of governance adapted to a new agenda. Effectively they couldn’t keep up. The third reason is the extent to which it is possible to pursue policies that run against the presumptions of broader (neo)liberal and pro-business economic policy. And the move to recession in 2008 dissipated what limited momentum there was behind the push to level upward on pay or introduce more flexible maternity and paternity leave: economic imperatives – and reducing the burden on business – take precedence.

The concept of the window of opportunity has given good service in the analysis of policy change. This case study of New Labour’s attempts to engender politics and policy provides a valuable additional dimension to our understanding of precisely how propitious the circumstances need to be before significant change can occur.

Annesley, C., Gains, F. and Rummery, K. (2010) Engendering politics and policy: the legacy of New Labour, Policy & Politics, vol 38, no 3, 389-406.

Alex Marsh, Management Board, Policy & Politics

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

Evaluating New Labour’s legacy

Were you still up for………er……. Lembit Opik? No ‘Portillo moment’: Jacqui Smith and Charles Clarke were about the best that the night could deliver. No ‘Edgbaston’ like 1997 (Labour landslide) and no ‘Basildon’ like 1992 (Conservatives hanging on). [Blair’s legacy is that we all write sentences without verbs!]. So New Labour ends not with a bang but with a whimper, and even that was drawn out for days as we followed the courting rituals of the parties. It is a sobering thought to have your books consigned to ‘history’. New Labour, new welfare state? (1999) explored the ‘third way’ in social policy. Evaluating New Labour’s welfare reforms (2002) examined delivery and achievements against aims and objectives. Modernising the welfare state (2008) examined Blair’s legacy in social policy. Since then, Brown has ‘saved the world’. Some things did get better, but at a cost. ‘Prudence’ and ‘New Labour’ will be wise spenders, not big spenders’ seems like a distant memory. Who would have thought that New Labour would end up redistributing towards merchant bankers (Cockney rhyming slang optional)?

Farewell, then, to New Labour. It may well be that 2010 was an Election better not to win. You can read about Conservative/Liberal Democrat policy in Hugh Bochel’s 2011 book The Conservative party and social policy, and perhaps someone, somewhere is already planning a book about ‘Team Miliband’ (hedging my bets), although ‘The Social Policy of Balls’ has the hint of a bestseller. In an uncertain future for social policy, you can be sure only of one thing: you can read all about it with ‘Policy Press’.

Martin Powell, author of Modernising the welfare state, Evaluating New Labour’s welfare reforms and New Labour, new welfare state?

Peter Townsend’s Legacy – The Next Steps

The death of Peter Townsend in June sent shock waves through multiple social science communities in which he had made seminal contributions, including fields as diverse as ageing, disability, health, poverty and human rights. In each of these fields he not only provided the key scientific reference points for other researchers and for policy makers but he also campaigned tirelessly, on all fronts, to try to improve conditions for the most excluded and vulnerable, both nationally and globally, and to create a more equal and socially just society. This combination of academic excellence and passionate pursuit of social justice was the essence of Peter Townsend’s career and it is this that should be foremost in attempts to take forward and build on his legacy.

This process is well underway. Before he died Peter had set in motion with Policy Press a volume of extracts from his work. The Peter Townsend reader will be published on 28 January with substantial extracts from across his massive contribution and introductory essays from leading experts in each field. In November two events took place which combined a celebration of his legacy with projections of how it could be maintained. The first was a memorial service celebrating his life and work. (A limited edition booklet of selections from his work across six decades will be available shortly from CPAG). The second was a one day memorial conference in which the speakers reflected on his work and how to take forward his legacy. Already annual memorial lectures are planned by the Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research and the Hong Kong Baptist University (from which Peter received an honorary degree in 2006) and there are likely to be more. Also Policy Press will publish a festschrift for Peter in early 2011, Fighting Poverty, Inequality and Injustice: A manifesto inspired by Peter Townsend which will spearhead the campaign to continue his mission.

Alan Walker, Professor of Social Policy & Social Gerontology, The University of Sheffield

Visit The Policy Press website at

Answers to Malcolm Dean’s quiz

Answers to Malcolm Dean’s social policy and social and demographic trends quiz (posted on November 3rd 2009) are now available below. How did you do?

1. One in five people in the UK are over 60. What was the ratio in 1900?
Answer: 1 in 25

2a. What proportion of women retiring in 2006 were eligible for a full state pension?; 2b. And for men?
Answer: Only 30% of women; 85% of men.

3. There were only 100 centenarians in the UK in 1909.
a. How many were there in 1959?; b. How many in 2009?; c. And how many are projected for 2029?
Answer: 270 in 1959; 12,000 in 2009; 48,000 projected for 2029

4. How much did life expectancy increase per decade in the last century?
Answer: By 2 years every decade.

5. What were the Turner Commission’s three tough options for improving pensions? Which one did they choose?
Answer: In Turner’s interim report the options were: higher taxes; longer working life; increased savings. They chose a combination of all three in the final report.

6. In what way was the Equality and Human Rights Commission, set up in 2007, perpetuating inequalities between the six fields — race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age — when it was monitoring discrimination?
Answer: Initially, in 2007, the EHRC could, where it found discrimination, intervene not just in employment but also in the provision of goods, facilities and services in the first five fields of its remit, but only with employment in respect of age. It was still legally permissible for a pub landlord to refuse an older person a drink on the grounds of age. The 2009 Equality Bill is set to end this anomaly.

7. The UK is still debating whether to abolish a statutory retirement age. Name three other countries which have already done so?
Answer: US in 1967; Ireland in 1998; and Denmark in 2004.

8. Who was Margaret Panting?
Answer: Margaret Panting died in almost identical circumstances to Victoria Climbié, an 8-year old child, who died in 2000 from severe abuse, neglect and multiple injuries inflicted by her great Aunt. Margaret Panting, aged 78, died one year later from similar severe abuse, neglect and multiple injuries within five weeks of being moved from sheltered accommodation to her son-in-law’s house. Victoria’s death generated 303 news and feature stories, 237 of them in the national press. Margaret’s death generated just 5 news stories, only 2 in the nationals.

9. To what extent did inequalities widen during the 18 years of Conservative rule between 1979 and 1997?
Answer: Inequality doubled between 1979 and 1997. In 1979 the post tax income of the richest tenth of the population was 5 times as much as the bottom tenth; by 1997 that ratio doubled to 10 times as much.

10. Means tested benefits increased under both the 1979-97 Conservative Government and between 1997-2009 under New Labour. But how did they differ?
Answer: They doubled under the 1979-1997 Conservative rule – from 17% to 34% of all benefits – which cut public expenditure. They rose under New Labour but increased public spending – through tax credits and pension credit – that were focused on those most in need.

11. Where does the UK come in the 30-member OECD league of developed states in terms of the proportion of the average (male) earnings that state pensions provide?
Answer: Britain is bottom of the OECD league table on state pensions which make up only 31% of average earnings compared to 39% in the US, 43% in Germany, 45% in Canada, 53% in France, 62% in Sweden, 68% in Italy, 80% in Denmark, 81% in Spain, and 88% in Netherlands.

12. When was there a golden age for older people in the UK?
Answer: According to Professor Pat Thane of London University Britain has never had a golden age for older people. She looked back three centuries and found the 1834 report of the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws noted how civilised nations “and even savages” recognised a duty of care for older people but “we believe that Britain is the only European nation where it (the duty) is neglected.”

Don’t forget, much fuller explanations can be found in Unequal Ageing, buy now for just £13.49 – 25% off the list price – at

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Twitter Updates


Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print.

The work on the Policy Press blog is licensed under a Creative Commons licence.