A few new books on social security

One of the disadvantages of being abroad has been that it’s been harder to get access to some recent books, and I’ve been taking the opportunity of the last week to catch up, using the resources of the National Library of Scotland.  First off is Welfare conditionality, by Beth Watts and Suzanne Fitpatrick (Routledge, 2018).  This is a short, insightful consideration of  conditionality,   distinguishing different kinds of conditions, attached to status, need and conduct.  The book’s main focus is in on behavioural conditions,  not just about social security but in other areas including social housing and homelessness; it also has a welcome discussion of the ethical issues.

Next is Understanding social security, a third edition edited by Jane Millar and Roy Sainsbury (Policy Press, 2018).  Like the earlier editions, it’s a collection of essays that fill in background information around the system, but it wouldn’t be much use to someone who did want to understand about social security, because doesn’t cover most of the main benefits, client groups or methods of distribution.  It woke up with an essay on ‘everyday life’ on benefits.

Then there are two books on Basic Income.  Malcolm Torry’s Why we need a Citizen’s Basic Income (Policy Press, 2018) is a second edition of Money for Everyone (2014)I think it’s much improved from the earlier edition, which reflects the depth of reading, the widening range of evidence and some practical proposals for how it might be introduced.  My reservations about the argument remain, however; I don’t think we can transfer evidence from countries where people are getting benefit for the first time to justify a scheme which proposes to take benefits away from many people.

The other book on UBI is a collection edited by Amy Downes and Stewart Lansley, It’s Basic Income (Policy Press, 2018).  This at least has some arguments against Basic Income, even if they get rather less treatment that the case for.  By comparison with the massive (and very expensive) anthology of essays collected by Widerquist and his colleagues, it’s rather less authoritative, but it’s accessible and wide-ranging, and it would be a good place for many students to start.   There are lots of gaps in the argument, about distribution, opportunity costs and universal services – Iain Gough’s explosion against the scheme from the Guardian is duplicated here – it would be helpful if some of the advocates addressed them.

I remain resolutely unimpressed by proposals for experiments that can’t possibly tell us what’s going to happen in the course of the next seventy years.  However, as Malcom Torry recognises in his book, we have already had basic income for families with children in Britain for forty years, and we already know  what the practical issues are (it works) and what the incentive effects are (none to speak of).

The fifth book is the bible, so to speak, or something slightly fatter: the new CPAG book, which I had delivered to Fife so I wouldn’t have to carry it back from Poland.  The first page covers the benefit rates, and I had a strong sense of déja vu; I’d seen this somewhere before.  Yes, it was the same as last year.

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