In a recent announcement about cutting youth unemployment benefits, Ed Miliband taps into prevailing public opinion by insisting that those on benefits must work to acquire skills in order to deserve them. The way he speaks of those who claim benefits is completely in tune with those who demonise the poor, with sound bites such as ‘Labour… will get young people to sign up for training, not sign on for benefits’.[i]
This prevailing belief is in stark contrast to two key trends over the last few decades, argues Peter Taylor-Gooby, Professor of Social Policy at the University of Kent in a paper to be published in Policy & Politics. He explains: “The first is that about three-fifths of people below the poverty line live in households where there is at least one full-time earner. Much working-age poverty is a problem of low wages, not of unemployment and ‘spongers’. Secondly, spending in other areas of the welfare state such as health care, pensions and education has grown very much faster than the benefits directed at the poor, unemployment benefit and social housing. Spending on the poor is unimportant as a cause of current public spending problems.”
In the paper, Taylor-Gooby claims that it is quite clear that Labour’s policy is more influenced by the imperative of winning votes than by considered plans for the welfare state in the long term.
Instead he argues that a more viable and humane welfare state is possible through policies that help those on low incomes and produce a return for society. Examples he cites include providing training for those without skills, or child care so mothers can work, as well as higher minimum wages to raise incomes at the bottom and reduce the costs of welfare.
For more information on his response to the welfare crisis, read Taylor-Gooby’s article ‘Making the Case for the Welfare State’ to be published in Policy & Politics or for a press copy contact the Policy & Politics press office on 01179 546721.
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