Reflections on the UK Social Security System

Welcome back to the LiberalismFive blog- apologies to any regular readers, if indeed there are any left, for long periods of silence. I confess work pressures have kept me from regular blogging, despite the surfeit of developments! Rather than comment on the obvious, such as Brexit, I offer a few brief comments this time on an interesting report on the UK’s social security systems.

The Resolution Foundation Report

‘Poverty now declines with age: children, working-age adults and pensioners have relative poverty rates of 30 per cent, 20 per cent and 16 per cent respectively, meaning children are now almost twice as likely to be in poverty as pensioners are.’

I’d recommend a look at this report from the ever-excellent Resolution Foundation– one of a series of three looking at the UK – the others being the size and shape of the UK state, and the changing nature of the UK tax system.

I’m no expert on the social security system and normally I’d offer more detailed commentary but I wanted to offer a few short reflections as we begin a new parliament under a new government:

Seems to me reading the report that there are a series of things needed:

– in-work and out of work benefits need to be made more generous- and wouldn’t be that expensive to do given what a modest percentage of total welfare spending they make up
– more generally, £10-20bn per annum is needed to reverse a decade of cuts to the system and remove some of the harsher, nasty things – benefits cap, 2 child cap, rape clause, pegging rent support to market rates
– the DWP’s staff capacity and size needs increases in preparation for the next recession 
– a recognition is needed that despite improvements, that the use of sanctions,3rd party assessments and other conditionality is too arbitrary and demeaning (and leads to misery and death sometimes) 
– the growth in child poverty is a disgrace and needed reversed- and is massively counter-productive anyway on purely economic grounds 
– the growth of incapacity amongst the under 35s needs a public health and mental health policy response – it won’t be fixed purely via adjustments to welfare. We should be thinking about use of green space for wellbeing, the impact of social media, wellbeing programmes at work and much greater funding for mental health within health systems.

I doubt we will see more than some modest increases under the Tories but I hope we do. Two further points:

– the usual claims that the U.K. is rubbish from Scottish independence supporters have some force in this area, but not always for the reasons they seem to think. Seems to me the evidence suggests that if you include private pension provision, free healthcare and other in-kind benefits, then the U.K. social protection system at an aggregate level is above average in terms of its generosity across the OECD. But where the criticism has force is (a) the low levels of cash benefits relative to income especially for work and out of work benefits (b) the nature of the conditionality introduced over the last 10-15 years is populist, demeaning and not fit for a society aspiring to treat everyone with equal concern and equal respect 
– the system needs a positive vision for the future and needs to think about the balance across age groups, and also between conditionality, universality and the use of the contributory principle

Author: DaveGorman

An Englishman longtime in Scotland, interested in new ideas for liberalism that recognise our challenges in the 21st century. Loves clouds, ideas, environment and applying liberal thinking to make things better. Speaking in a personal capacity of course.

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