Is the welfare state about need or nudging?
Published: 25th Jun 2012 10:14:29
To William Beveridge it was about eradicating evil - the "giant evils" of squalor, ignorance, want, idleness and disease. To David Cameron it is about encouraging citizens to do the right thing - to work, to save, to take personal responsibility.
The prime minister urges us today to go back to first principles in thinking about what the welfare state is for.
For some it should be the mechanism by which the state seeks greater social justice. For others it should be a mechanism by which the state seeks to promote individual morals.
Mr Cameron's starting point for a national debate appears to echo the view of the high Tory thinker and journalist TE Utley, who described the welfare state as "an arrangement under which we all largely cease to be responsible for our own behaviour and in return become responsible for everyone else's."
Instead, the Conservative leader imagines a welfare system where ministers in Whitehall pull fiscal strings which encourage people towards his party's core values of hard work, saving, marriage and having children (when you can afford to).
To Mr Cameron, the machinery of state benefits is less about need and more about nudging. He wants to end the "culture of entitlement" and focus on those "who have no other means of support, or who have fallen on hard times".
In order to strengthen his argument, the Conservative leader paints a picture of "them" and "us". He talks of a "welfare gap in this country - between those living long-term in the welfare system and those outside it."
It is a view that plays directly to ancient anxieties about the residuum of society, the shadowy people who remain in poverty because of their indolence, incorrigibility and moral corruption. Mr Cameron notes the division and resentment "amongst those who pay into the system" against those who are "getting without having to put in the effort."
This battle between "strivers versus skivers" has underpinned British attitudes to poverty since the Poor Laws. Ministerial rhetoric about scroungers, benefit cheats and what Kenneth Clark recently called "the feral underclass" presses the point.
There are two problems with this argument. First, those in poverty are not part of some clearly defined group. Many people move in and out of welfare all the time as their circumstances change. Secondly, because it is not that simple, there is a significant risk that measures designed to kick the feckless up the backside end up hurting the poorest and most vulnerable.
The Conservatives want to make the welfare state simpler - the Universal Credit introduced next year is a bold attempt to do that. They also want it to cost less - the chancellor has already made it clear he wants to save a further £10bn from the welfare budget in the first two years of the next Parliament.
But the welfare state is complex because it is trying to do a very complex thing - provide tailored support of exactly the right amount and type only to those individuals who need it. "Strivers versus skivers" may appeal as a slogan, but the world isn't that simple.
At 19:48:56 in HeadlinesA British man who was kidnapped in Yemen in February has been released safely, the Foreign Office has said.
At 19:38:32 in SportEngland captain Alastair Cook has urged wicketkeeper Jos Buttler not to change his attacking batting style when he makes his Test debut against India.
At 19:29:35 in SportEngland's Fran Halsall produced a shock to take gold in the 50m freestyle at Glasgow 2014.
At 19:24:12 in EnglandA busy commuter road that connects Slough with Maidenhead and Heathrow is to get a £5.6m government investment to boost its public transport links.
At 19:07:24 in EnglandA war memorial has been unveiled commemorating a Nottinghamshire village's soldiers who died in both world wars.
At 19:02:29 in SportNatalie Powell beat Olympic silver medallist Gemma Gibbons in the final of the -78kg class to win Wales' second gold medal of the Commonwealth Games.
At 19:00:16 in EnglandA 23-year-old man has been charged in connection with a rape in Essex.
At 18:54:13 in EnglandMore than 150 campaigners have protested against sewage being discharged into the sea.
At 18:52:51 in EnglandMasonry fell into a tunnel at an east London Tube station earlier, London Underground (LU) has confirmed.
At 18:38:30 in EnglandA 61-year-old man has died following a "medical episode" while trying to fetch a ball from a lake in Buckinghamshire.
Harvard CitationBBC News, 2012. Is the welfare state about need or nudging? [Online] (Updated 25th Jun 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1436715/Is-the-welfare-state-about-need-or-nudging [Accessed 26th Jul 2014]
News In Other Categories
A British team of researchers has developed what might be a simple blood test that can detect all cancers.
England captain Alastair Cook has urged wicketkeeper Jos Buttler not to change his attacking batting style when he makes his Test debut against India.
A group of local councils in England is formally asking the government for new powers to tax large supermarkets.
A busy commuter road that connects Slough with Maidenhead and Heathrow is to get a £5.6m government investment to boost its public transport links.
An investigation has been launched after a man was found dead in a Dublin prison.
It's exactly half a century since the premiere of Fiddler on the Roof - among the most successful stage musicals written to date. In 1964 Sheldon Harnick and his colleagues worried that the setting, a small Jewish township in eastern Europe in the early 1900s, might limit the show's appeal. But, says Harnick, the show's real subject is a universal one - family.