The Evolution of the Welfare State and Benefits Culture: From Beveridge to Today!

Apr 24, 2013 12:30

This roundtable discussion looked at the past, present and the future of the welfare state in the UK.

The second of LCSS' roundtable discussions took place on the 24th April 2013 looking at the role of the welfare state in society and how this has evolved during the post-war period. This timely event was also an opportunity to scrutinise the recent welfare reforms. The keynote speakers for this roundtable discussion were Professor Peter Taylor-Gooby OBE (University of Kent), Anna Coote (New Economics Foundation) and Dr Peter Kenway (New Policy Institute). The discussion was chaired by Professor John Macnicol (London School of Economics).

Prof Taylor-Gooby stated that there has been an enormous expansion to the welfare state with it accounting less than 10 per cent of GDP in the late 1940s and now accounting for three times as much in real terms. He also emphasised the significance of the expansion of social provision for the working population in the development of welfare. In the political context, he states that it has become increasingly contested with its legitimacy being questioned and public support weakening as a result of it playing a more significant role in economic activity and has intervened more increasingly in people's lives with the number of social provisions on offer.

The influence of globalisation on the welfare system was also highlighted with increasing competition and flexibility in the workplace and as a result diminishing job security and with increased disparity in wages the welfare state has had to do "more heavy-lifting". The demand for pensions and healthcare is also said to be on the rise with an increase in the population of ageing people. Less well-off families receiving benefits include families with working people according to Prof Taylor-Gooby and suggested that rather than create a debate about benefits itself a debate should be around low wages and how to achieve wages at "the bottom end to survive".

Anna Coote drew on the philosophical aspects of the welfare state by stating that the system was not designed on the principal of growing inequalities but on the principal of need. Anna goes on to discuss the importance of changing gender roles on the welfare state as women are now increasingly entering full time employment as well as caring for kids and parents and there is an invisibility of unpaid labour.

Anna also pointed out that there has been a huge expansion in health care and changing ideas of how health should be, however there haven't been any plans to stop people needing to use healthcare or any plans to stop illnesses like the smoking ban. She further illustrates that 80 per cent of health conditions are avoidable. The erosion of solidarity in the community in the last thirty or so years, the sense that we're all-in-it-together has been eroded, according to Anna. She also states that the concept of time should be understood with productivity levels being higher people have traded that productivity for more money rather than time due to the capitalist society that we live and the demand for consumer goods.

Peter Kenway made more of a reference to how the patterns of benefits payments have evolved. Peter referred to Beveridge's principal of benefits in return for contribution which was the main principal of the system when it was established and continues to be so essentially until the early 1970s. Peter Kenway then highlighted the shift to more means-tested benefits and increased support for children and pensioners in recent years. Peter pointed out to the Labour party's motivation during the Blair-Brown era of reducing child poverty in the increased support for children. He also mentioned that women's entrance into the Labour market has had benefits for men as well.

Peter interestingly points to the private sector imbalances and states that these were at the heart of what was going wrong before 2007 and this has also been associated with big public sector imbalances. Also mentioned was that lower public spending may not mean a smaller deficit and that welfare cuts should not purely be exercised on that basis that the deficit is too big. In terms of welfare cuts, serious savings should not touch the blameless and the idea that social security spending is out of control because of bad people or cheaters is wrong. Cuts should be "broad and shallow", with the example of only uprating benefits by 1 per cent instead of two as a relatively easy way of saving billions. A new discussion should take place as to what is acceptable to pay people, according to Peter.
Following the insightful keynote speeches a question and answer section took place involving the participants of the roundtable who got the opportunity to express their opinions and debate the issues which arose from the keynote speeches. The event was ended with a refreshments and networking session.



Rikki Dean (LSE)

Valentina Zigante (LSE)

Gonenc Uysal (KCL, LCSS)

Zeynep Kaya (LSE)

Zeynep Engin (LCSS)

Ozdemir Ahmet (LCSS)

Prof Bernard Harris (University of Strathclyde)

Paul Hunter (Smith Institute)

Kenville Wright (LSBU)

Matthew Tinsley (Policy Exchange)

Sabrina Bushe (New Policy Institute)

Dr Simon Griffiths (Goldsmith’s College London) 

Tom McKenzie (CASS Business School)


Anna Coote

Head of Social Policy, New Economics Foundation

Dr Peter Kenway

Director of the New Policy Institute

Prof John Macnicol

Visiting Professor, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

Prof Peter Taylor-Gooby OBE

Professor of Social Policy, University of Kent


London Centre for Social Studies (LCSS)

73 Watling Street London EC4M 9BJ

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