The State of Welfare

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There are numerous factors that adversely affect the status and effectiveness of the welfare state; Economy, Globalization, Demography, Immigration. There are various challenges facing the welfare state in the 21st century, these include; ageing populations, changing structure of the economy, migration, labour markets, globalization and ideological differences. After carrying out a snap cross-national analysis of welfare state policies it was relatively easy to dissect and explore the social democratic, liberal and essential welfare regimes rather than being limited to simply focusing on class systems.

What makes up the Welfare State?

What makes up the Welfare State?

It is clear to see that the welfare states originated from relatively humble industrial economies. Yet in recent times we are encouraged to asses the level of competence when welfare states respond to modern demands for example this is illustrated with the current crisis faced by the NHS in England.

Most European welfare states came into being when these societies were relatively homogeneous in nature – predominantly white and sharing similar values. In an age of mass immigration – making societies more diverse racially, religiously etc. – can welfare states cope with differentiated value systems?

Alongside security, welfare is now perhaps one of the two most important functions of the modern state. The more comprehensive welfare state was constructed after the Second World War. In its early phase it could be argued that the welfare state model adopted Keynesian ideology which is based on the idea that unregulated free markets do not always produce the best result; thus, state intervention is needed: whereas monetarism is based on a view of the economy as self-stabilising. The failure of the Keynesian welfare state brought about allowed The New Right perspectives to resonate positively with the general public. The New Right argued for economic independence, they argued that the free-markets “should determine employment levels’.

According to former Labour party leader Ed Miliband, during an interview on the Andrew Marr show on BBC One he exclaims “21st century inequality, the fairness divide in our economy, threatens to be about a division between the richest at the top who have been doing well, and the majority, lower and middle-income, who have been struggling to keep up”.

The Department for Work and Pensions have come under close scrutiny in past weeks

The Department for Work and Pensions have come under close scrutiny in past weeks

As reported by the Policy Exchange documents, since coming to power, the conservative government has taken bold steps to reform the UK’s welfare state. There were good reasons to do so. Over the previous decades the welfare state has grown in scale and scope. However, under David Cameron, the welfare state has taken a serious blow. The NHS is on the verge of being privatised whilst the austerity measures that George Osbourne has implemented has meant huge cuts to the welfare budget, this has had drastic consequences to British citizens. Housing benefits, child benefits and disability benefits have all been cut by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). Iain Duncan Smith, the man in charge of the DWP is being likened to the Sherriff of Nottingham, taking money from the poor and disabled and creating an ever widening gap between the rich and the poor. Unfortunately, in this circumstance the poor do not have a Robin Hood figure to save them from the evil sheriff.

Iain Duncan Smith the Department for Work and Pensions Minister

Iain Duncan Smith the Department for Work and Pensions Minister

The latest news coming out of the DWP is that the front line workers are being given guidance on how to deal with suicidal benefit claimants. The DWP is expected to implement further welfare cuts despite reports of benefit claimants who have died due to their benefit payments being stopped. Rather than scrapping the further cuts to the welfare budget the conservative government seem happy to continue to implement cuts to services that are heavily relied upon by the most vulnerable members of our society. A further blow to the DWP minister has surfaced over past several weeks, a petition calling for Iain Duncan Smiths resignation has received over 56,000 signatures online after the DWP fabricated quotes which promoted its benefit cuts. What David Cameron will do about the criticism of Iain Duncan Smith is unknown, however it seems unlikely that he will be forced to sack the DWP minister as Smith is only doing the job asked of him by Cameron and Osbourne.

The general consensus is that Britain remains an unequal society. It goes without saying that there are various controversies around the nature of social class particularly with inspections of the welfare state. Of course one cannot study class without the inclusion of works by Karl Marx and the ideological impact of globalization as well as the Marxist approach to capitalist system which apparently will eventually lead to a revolution. Some have blamed the rising levels of inequality as the platform for wage stagnation and even more sinister, the financial crash of 2008. Materials from the BBC Radio 4 Series proved to be important in the analysis of social class and mobility. Shows such as Benefits Street on Channel 4 have been criticised. According to David Blunkett: “We also need to challenge stereotyping and above all we need to challenge those who think that it’s entertainment on television to either ridicule or then promote to celebrity … the idea that Deirdre Kelly should become a celebrity on the back of so-called Benefit Street is a disgrace”.

Channel Four show Benefits Street

Channel Four show Benefits Street

Data on the distribution of income and wealth is positively essential to differentiating and understanding the workings of social class. There are various practical and theoretical approaches to defining social class. There are valid disputes among sociologists, political circles and policy makers surrounding the definition and essence of social class. The UK social class system categorises various dimensions of social class status. Undoubtedly, there are numerous factors which effects one’s social class. Some suggest the modern western democracies such as the United Kingdom are fairly equal so therefore insist that matters of social class are relatively insignificant. What is important also is tackling the means whereby social class is measured. Issues such as; the distribution of wealth, subjective assessment of social status, determinants of class are all useful factors in identifying and dissecting social trends and statistics.

Most of the policy and statistical data obtained from agencies such as the Department of Work and Pensions, Institute of Fiscal Studies, Office of National Statistics (ONS) and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs don’t offer solutions to the welfare question. Furthermore, findings from the Great British Class Survey proved to be relevant but only to a point. Further information surrounding welfare can be found on the OECD online library main economic indicators, employment and labour market statistics, United Nations, Political Studies Association (PSA), British International Studies Association (BISA), World Bank, National Audit Office, Euro stat database.

All of the challenges aforementioned have quite clearly brought about significant changes to the welfare state and relevantly, most modern states have tried to reform their systems. While the notable states are showing signs of relatively deep cuts in social spending as percentage of GDP, the UK particularly continues to spend significantly on welfare when compared to other Western states. It is clear that the UK welfare system is certainly attractive as we have witnessed with the recent media attention surrounding the migrants in Calais. But of course Sweden and Norway have much more generous welfare systems, however they are not as competitive on the international platform. It is undeniable, though, that the welfare cuts which are being undertaken by the DWP are wholly too drastic and disproportionate when considered. It has to be remembered that MPs such as Iain Duncan Smith are supposed to be democratically elected representatives of the people, to say that the people are content with their fellow citizens and human beings committing suicide and dying due to welfare cuts implemented by our MPs then that would convey an extremely damming picture of our current system here in Britain.


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