I’ve just received a copy of a book I’ve contributed to, which reviews Labour party policy on a range of topics. The book is edited by David Scott, and called Manifestos, policies and practices: an equalities agenda; the contributors include Richard Murphy, David Blanchflower, Rebecca Tunstall and Graham Scambler. I wrote the chapter on social security.
I’ve previously written that “Labour needs to think rather more thoroughly and deeply about what social security is for and how it might be changed.” I’ve been critical about Labour’s policy for some time – it was the Labour government that launched ‘welfare reform’, with its emphasis on work at all costs. In this chapter, I’ve outlined a set of rather different proposals and approaches that Labour might consider:
- Re-emphasise Labour’s previous commitments to security, meeting need and social justice.
- Reconsider what people need benefits for, providing services rather than cash where appropriate.
- Offer a wider range of benefits to meet social objectives.
- Move away from means-testing, with greater reliance on contributory benefits and universal allowances.
- Rethink how things are done: aim to have benefits with simpler rules, fewer conditions, fewer personal adjustments and longer time scales.
- Secure benefits for disability to secure their financial status and their dignity.
- Protect the position of children in disrupted families by directing benefits to the child
- Improve provision for the oldest pensioners.
- Reform occupational pensions, to secure the future of pension entitlements and to ensure that pensions funds are invested in the British economy.
- Protect people better during the interruption of earnings caused by sickness and unemployment.
- Separate benefits and employability provision; they are doing different things.
- Provide more public sector jobs, to do the things that we want to have done.
3 thoughts on “How Labour might rethink its social security policy”
“Move away from means-testing,…….
Hmmm… something the labour movement strove through the 20th century to achieve and Gordon Brown demolished completely in
less than two terms.
The problem with contributory benefits is that they can be very unfair to a significant number of people, many of whom are vulnerable or marginalised. What happens to someone who needs to rely on the safety net but hasn’t contributed “enough” (yet)? What if they’ve never worked, haven’t worked for very long, have had significant gaps in employment history, and/or have worked less than full-time for some period?
This kind of situation can occur for all kinds of reasons, including health problems, having kids/caring responsibilities (often at a young age), being discouraged/stopped from working (generally women, often in immigrant cultures, sometimes in abusive situations), further education (can last into late 20s or be returned to later in life), lack of jobs in area, seasonal workers, etc.
That’s absolutely right, and we have to recognise that the reason for suspending Unemployment Benefit in the 1990s was that the contributory system had virtually ceased to function in that field. In relation to pensions, however, continental systems have shown that they can provide secure benefits at a higher rate than we’ve ever managed to offer in the UK. Tony Atkinson made a case for a ‘participation income’, part universal, part contributory. Contributions can be an important part of the mix.