Social security systems are being transformed according to untested assumptions about how benefit recipients act. Sharon Wright provides evidence to challenge several core myths on which British welfare reforms have been based. There is a wide gap between the dominant way in which welfare subjects are represented in political and media debate and the lived experiences of those receiving benefits and using support services.
Over the last 15 years, British welfare reforms have focussed on individualising responsibility and contracting-out services. These strategies share a behaviour change logic that assumes the source of the problem is to be found in the flawed motivations and actions of benefit recipients and their job coaches. Consecutive UK governments have been strongly committed to the idea of ‘getting people off benefits and into work’, despite long periods of minimal unemployment rates and exceptionally high employment rates. Continue reading →
In a recent announcement about cutting youth unemployment benefits, Ed Miliband taps into prevailing public opinion by insisting that those on benefits must work to acquire skills in order to deserve them. The way he speaks of those who claim benefits is completely in tune with those who demonise the poor, with sound bites such as ‘Labour… will get young people to sign up for training, not sign on for benefits’.[i]
This prevailing belief is in stark contrast to two key trends over the last few decades, argues Peter Taylor-Gooby, Professor of Social Policy at the University of Kent in a paper to be published in Policy & Politics. He explains: “The first is that about three-fifths of people below the poverty line live in households where there is at least one full-time earner. Much working-age poverty is a problem of low wages, not of unemployment and ‘spongers’. Secondly, spending in other areas of the welfare state such as health care, pensions and education has grown very much faster than the benefits directed at the poor, unemployment benefit and social housing. Spending on the poor is unimportant as a cause of current public spending problems.” Continue reading →