Posts Tagged 'welfare'

Taxation, inequality and post-industrial society

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Sally Ruane

In this blog post, Sally Ruane, co-author of Paying for the Welfare State in the 21st Century, explains why we need to challenge the political culture surrounding taxation to effectively tackle inequality.

 

“The dramatic electoral developments in the US, France and most recently the UK, point to a state of flux in which there is a high degree of uncertainty regarding future direction and outcomes.

These political symptoms emerge following the transition of advanced Western countries from industrial to post-industrial societies, a transition managed in such a way that economic inequality has deepened and financial deregulation has brought about a destabilisation of the whole system.

The rise of in-work poverty

In the UK, from 1980 to 2003, median income began to lag behind economic growth, rising at the rate of only 70% of national economic growth; and in the five years leading up to the financial crash, household income stagnated despite economic growth during the period. More recently, the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that in the seven years after the crash, average gross employment income had yet to recover its pre-recession levels. Into this mix we must add that, unlike the postwar period when poverty was associated with a problematic or disrupted relationship to the labour market, most people living in poverty today are living in households where at least one person is working. What is more, average pensioner household income is now higher than average income in working age households. Meanwhile, at the top end of the scale, the best off 1% of households has raced away, holding 7.9% of all income in 2014/15 against 5.7% 1990.

“Average pensioner household income is now higher than average income in working age households.”

Tax and the allocation of resources

The allocation of resources in society is an outcome not just of ‘market incomes’ but also of the totality of fiscal policy. This entails government spending on benefits and in-kind services, on the one hand, and the tax system on the other. The social policy gaze has tended to focus on the former rather than the latter but to understand questions of inequality we have to examine taxation. The tax system encompasses more than the entities taxed, the taxes levied, and the rates and thresholds at which those taxes are levied. It entails also attitudes to the payment of tax, the capacity to and vigour with which the tax collection authority pursues those who owe tax and the infrastructure through which income and wealth are handled, disclosed (or not) and made subject (or not) to tax liability.

‘Flexible’ working and rising inequality

The way in which the tax system works not only is influenced by the nature of the wider socio-cultural and economic system but at the same time influences that wider system.

The acceptance of a model of globalisation in which the financial system was deregulated and many relatively well paid working class jobs were transferred to other, low wage economies, reinforced by a strong pound which suited the interests of the financial sector, gave rise to exhortations that labour must be flexible to attract capital investment. ‘Flexibility’ meant that the wages and terms and conditions of workers were systematically worsened to the advantage of capital. New Labour’s revival of Speenhamland type policies in which the low wages of those in work were supplemented by tax credits afforded a degree of redistribution but at the expense of establishing the acceptability of paying low wages, reinforcing the problem of in work poverty. In other words in addressing workplace exploitation, the tax system has simultaneously exacerbated it.

“… in addressing workplace exploitation, the tax system has simultaneously exacerbated it.”

The cost of tax avoidance

The increasing effectiveness with which corporate and financial interests have been able to lobby ministers has given rise to criticism of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs for lacking zeal in its pursuit of complex and sophisticated forms of tax avoidance and evasion, reinforcing the resources which corporations can bring to bear in further lobbying of ministers. The debilitation of the organised working class through acceptance of the dominant globalisation model has weakened the countervailing forces which might have checked concessions to big business and big finance. The success with which large corporations and affluent individuals are able to avoid and evade paying taxes materially affects the resources governments claim are available for funding social security and public services. The resulting austerity erodes the social wage and further weakens the base for social democratic policies.

“Challenging the political culture surrounding taxation is essential if inequality is to be effectively tackled.”

These are just some of the inter-linking examples of the way in which the tax system is both shaped by wider cultural and social factors as well as recursively shaping that wider society.

We argue in Paying for the Welfare State in the 21st Century that reforming the tax system goes beyond altering rates and bands and that challenging the political culture surrounding taxation is essential if inequality is to be effectively tackled and some of the destructive consequences of the shift to post-industrial society are to be reversed.

 

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Election focus: Manifestos on welfare should be about engagement, dignity and respect

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Ruth Patrick

In this blog post, part of our Election Focus series, Ruth Patrick offers suggestions for what should be included in party manifestos on welfare reform, based on the six years of research into individuals’ experiences of social security and welfare reform in her book, For whose benefit?

Too often General Election campaigns seem – yet another – opportunity for politicians to talk ‘tough’ on ‘welfare’ as they compete to be seen as the party who will finally rid Britain of its supposed problem of ‘welfare dependency’. 2010 featured billboards with David Cameron finger pointing as he pledged: ‘let’s cut benefits for those who refuse work’.

In the run up to the 2015 election, Rachel Reeves, then shadowing the Department for Work and Pensions brief, was quoted saying: “we are not the party of people on benefits” disowning millions of potential voters.

And now another election. With the dominance of Brexit, as yet we have not heard much on ‘welfare’ and it may well be crowded out by policy debates in other areas. Corbyn’s Labour can be expected to offer up a more egalitarian social security agenda but the scope for this to gain traction and support from the public may be limited.

Continue reading ‘Election focus: Manifestos on welfare should be about engagement, dignity and respect’

Attitudes to social security in Britain today

As new welfare reforms come into effect this month the editors of a special issue of the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice explore attitudes to and experiences of welfare. 

Image copyright: Dole Animators

Authors: John Hudson, Ruth Patrick and Emma Wincup

In his first budget as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond was notably silent on the topical issue of ‘welfare’.

Unlike his predecessor, Hammond announced no new tightening of the social security budget nor any extra mechanisms to address what is so often (however erroneously) described as the ‘lifestyle choice’ of ‘welfare dependency’.

However, the welfare reforms already timetabled by Osborne and Cameron are proceeding apace.

April 2017 sees several new measures implemented that will further reduce social security support and make it more conditional. These include extensions to the welfare conditionality faced by parents and carers of young children and reductions in the financial support available to disabled people. May’s government is also overseeing the removal of child-related financial support via tax credits and Universal Credits for third and subsequent children in the same family.

“Attitudes to ‘welfare’ are much more complex and nuanced than often presumed.”

These welfare reforms are typically presented as being in tune with a ‘hardening’ of public attitudes to ‘welfare’ over time. This picture is challenged in a recently published special issue of the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice which draws together research exploring attitudes and experiences of ‘welfare’.

What this research shows is that attitudes to ‘welfare’ are much more complex and nuanced than often presumed. Further, it illustrates the reach and extent of benefits stigma and the ways in which this stigma impacts upon how those in receipt of out-of-work benefits see themselves, see others and are seen by others.

Key findings from the special issue were debated at a policy roundtable in the House of Lords in December 2016, organised by the Social Policy Association (SPA), Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, and jointly chaired by Baroness Lister of Burtersett (representing the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice’s editorial board) and Alison Garnham (Chief Executive of CPAG).

Contributors to the special issue were joined by experts from Parliament, central and local government, the media, the third sector and think tanks. The roundtable debate unpacked some of the very real political challenges faced by those looking to make the case for a more expansive vision for social security in the UK today.

Much campaigning activity in recent years has focused on fact-checking based ‘mythbusting’ but participants made a number of suggestions for shifting attitudes which go beyond this approach,  including a greater focus on individual stories and using social media to engage specific groups in discussion and debate.

“…need to focus political debate more fully on the human costs of ‘welfare reform’…”

Indeed, the efficacy of ‘mythbusting’ was subject to much comment and Baumberg Geiger and Meuleman offer a critical evaluation of the approach in the special issue. Some argued there was a need to focus political debate more fully on the human costs of ‘welfare reform’; for example, in terms of poor mental health or people living in poverty and increasingly destitution. Several of the papers in the special issue explore lived experiences of ‘welfare reform’, including papers by Patrick, who reports findings from qualitative longitudinal research with out-of-work benefit claimants, and Garthwaite, who reports findings from ethnographic research undertaken in foodbanks.

Others suggested there was a need to move away from making the case for social security and to focus instead on the reasons why individuals may become reliant on it: for example, significant numbers of people engaged in low paid, precarious work or underlying stigma to groups typically excluded from the labour market. Many papers in the special issue explore such debates, for instance Wincup and Monaghan focus on dependent drug users and the ways in which stigma often acts as a barrier to recovery.

Finally, there was also much discussion about the extent to which contemporary attitudes really are ‘harder’ than those in the past, with significant continuities in discourse and attitudes being identified. Hudson, Lunt et al explore these themes in their contribution to the special issue, tracing the continuities in pejorative attitudes to ‘welfare’ from the ‘golden age’ of welfare through to today’s debates.


The ‘Exploring ‘welfare’ attitudes and experiences’ special issue of the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice was guest edited by John Hudson (University of York), Ruth Patrick (University of Liverpool) and Emma Wincup (University of Leeds) and published in the Autumn 2016 volume of the journal.

You may also be interested in The truth about benefits sanctions by Ruth Patrick

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The truth about benefits sanctions

300,000 people have had their benefits suddenly stopped by sanctions in the last 12 months, many of whom have been plunged into poverty, unable to heat their homes or even eat.

On today’s National Day of Action Against Sanctions, Ruth Patrick highlights the reality of welfare reform as laid out in her new book, For whose benefit? The truth is that our punitive welfare reform agenda leaves people further away rather than closer to the paid labour market.

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Ruth Patrick

“While Cameron and Osborne may no longer be in charge, their welfare reform agenda continues apace. This month sees the implementation of another wave of reforms, which will further weaken Britain’s social security system.

Over recent years, politicians have robustly defended successive rounds of welfare reform. They argue that reform is needed to end supposed cultures of ‘welfare dependency’ and prevent people from being able to ‘choose’ benefits as a ‘lifestyle choice’. In making their case, politicians draw upon simplistic but powerful demarcations between ‘hard working families’ and ‘welfare dependants’, and suggest that welfare reform will help those on out-of-work benefits join the ranks of the hard working majority.

As David Cameron put it back in 2014:

“Our long-term economic plan for Britain is not just about doing what we can afford, it is also about doing what is right. Nowhere is that more true than in welfare. For me the moral case for welfare reform is every bit as important as making the numbers add up: building a country where people aren’t trapped in a cycle of dependency but are able to get on, stand on their own two feet and build a better life for themselves and their family.”

But does Cameron’s moral case stand up? And has welfare reform actually helped people make transitions from ‘welfare’ and into work?

Continue reading ‘The truth about benefits sanctions’

The welfare myth of them and us

Read the complete preface to the second edition of John Hill’s influential Good times, bad times below. This ground-breaking book uses extensive research and survey evidence to challenge the myth that the population divides into those who benefit from the welfare state and those who pay into it – ‘skivers’ and ‘strivers’, ‘them’ and ‘us’. 

John Hills (small)

John Hills

Good times, bad times was completed in 2014. A great deal has happened in UK politics and policy since then, not least the election of a majority Conservative government led by David Cameron in May 2015, the result of the referendum in June 2016 for Britain to leave the European Union, and the subsequent appointment of Theresa May as Prime Minister in July 2016.

Through all of this, the issues discussed in this book have remained central. One of its themes is the way that our lives are ever-changing.

Sometimes this is simply because we get older, we form – and dissolve – marriages and other partnerships, children are born, and they leave home.

But it is also because we move in and out of work, change and lose jobs, and what comes in from work and other sources can change not just from year to- year with our careers, but also from month-to-month, or even day-to-day, in ways highlighted by the spread of ‘zero hours contracts’.

Our needs – for education and for health and social care – change as we grow older, but also with the fluctuations in our state of health.

“Much popular debate assumes that people’s lives are unchanging.”

Continue reading ‘The welfare myth of them and us’

Attitudes to welfare: a departure from the past or more of the same?

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John Hudson

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Ruth Patrick

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Emma Wincup

 

 

 

 

 

 

The latest issue of the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice is a special themed issue exploring ‘welfare’ attitudes and experiences. Here, the issue editors – John Hudson, Ruth Patrick and Emma Wincup –  look at hints that attitudes to welfare may be changing.

 

Discussions about ‘welfare’ in the UK over the past five years have been set against a dominant backdrop of ongoing welfare reform. The key players in government – David Cameron, George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith – have focused on ending what they describe as a culture of ‘welfare dependency’.

This political landscape shaped public and media debates, with the negative characterisation of ‘welfare’ and the lives of those who rely on it only further embedded by the exponential growth in ‘Poverty Porn’. However, in the 12 months since we began assembling the research we report here,  the UK’s political landscape has been dramatically altered by Brexit: Cameron, Osborne and Duncan Smith are all figures of the past.

The ramifications for social policy are unclear, but today, as we publish our Journal of Poverty and Social Justice special issue on attitudes to ‘welfare’ and lived experiences of those reliant on the most stigmatised form of state support, there are hints of a new rhetoric, politics and approach on ‘welfare’ in the UK. Continue reading ‘Attitudes to welfare: a departure from the past or more of the same?’

David Cameron’s `Welfare’ Legacy. Thatcher’s Son or Macmillan’s Heir?

As voters go to the polls today to decide whether Britain should #remain in Europe or #brexit, today’s guest blogger Robert M Page considers Prime Minister Cameron’s legacy in terms of social policy…

Robert Page

Robert Page

Provided David Cameron is able to secure majority support for `Remain’ in the European Union Referendum vote on Thursday June 23rd, and can then swiftly reunite his party, he may finally be able to turn his attention to his political legacy.

In terms of social policy will he be seen as someone who steered the party in an avowedly One Nation direction or, rather, as someone who proved to be a loyal `son’ of Margaret Thatcher?

Toxic social legacy

Although sympathetic with Thatcher’s neo‐liberal economic agenda, Cameron has sought to distance himself from her more toxic social legacy since becoming party leader in 2005, not least because he recognised the importance of neutralising New Labour’s reputation as being the only party committed to social justice. Continue reading ‘David Cameron’s `Welfare’ Legacy. Thatcher’s Son or Macmillan’s Heir?’


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