Conservatives reconstructed and restructured
In 1979 the Conservatives reconstructed and restructured the welfare state from it's previous form. This is often referred to as New Right Thinkning and it included changes in the way the state provision of social welfare, how it was ran and how it was percieved. Before the post war times and in to the 70's, the welfare system was seen in a rather rosey glow. It was percieved to be beneficial to society. It would be the mid 1970's before construction of the welfare state would start to be questioned. This essay shall look at the welfare state before reconstruction took place, how the original settlement was seen as unstable, how the welfare state was restructured and the link between new right ideology and the elements of restructuring.
The term 'Welfare State' was introduced by a man named Alfred Zimmern and used to determine the different policies of the war state and democracies. Bryson defines the term when a nation has a minimum level of institutionalised provisions for meeting the basic economic and social requirments of it's citizens (Bryson, 1992. p36). Prior to the 1970's and as far back as the 1600's to 1800's, parishes and charities were responsible for the poor people of communities.
The Salvation Army, Barnados and William Booth were all charities that oversaw the needs for things like housing, education and health services. Welfare demands increased and come 1905, half of the government expenditure was spent on these needs. Between the early 1900's and the 1970's many different welfare measures were put in place. School medical attention and school meals were introduced in 1906. The old age pension was given life in 1908, of course this wasn't for just anyone and came with conditions .It would be 1925 before the pension was based on contributions and became available for more people. In 1918 the Education Act secured places for kids at secondry school with a scholarship.
What was equivalent to the 'dole' back in those early days didn't offer much and certainly not to everyone and many proud men would starve before applying for such a meagre handout. It would be the end of the war that would see radical changes in the views of the welfare state and society in general. Stigma was attatached to the thinking behind 'welfare' prior to the time between 1940 and 1970 and it wasn't seen as 'social protection by the state at times of need and the provision of services at a maximum level' (Briggs, 1985). The welfare state hadn't truely came in to it's own prior the war and policies were commonly disagreed upon. The emergence of world war two would see the reconstruction and an important point of turning for the welfare state.
The original welfare settlement was seen as unstable. Different reasons laid blame to this, financial chaos and the disagreement on policies played their part. Mass unemployment had an impact on the state and it would be 1940 before the Beveridge report was introduced with a proposal on how to readress the welfare state. William Beveridge headed this report and highlighted five problematic areas in society. The report was much welcomed by people and following the report the National Health Service and an expansion of National Insurance was born.
This report is often seen as the very blueprint for modern 'Welfare State' . The report not only changed how the welfare state would run but it also changed the way people saw welfare. It challenged the older ideas of unemployment and poverty being down to laziness and the idea that 'collective caring' was being introduced and welfare was a much needed right. TH Marshsall in 1965 said ''it is generally agreed that, the overall responsibility for the welfare of the citizens must remain with the state".
Conservative and Liberal parties were both swift to take on board the proposals of the report and although the Labour Party was slow in doing so, their leaders initially being against the suggestion of a National Health Service, they did eventually adopt the policies of the Beveridge Report. After they won the election of 1945 they in fact introduced many of the suggested policies of the report, such as Pension Act, National Insurance and Family Allowance Act.
For 30 years the new welfare state and the domestic political consensus remained fairly unchalleneged. T H Marhsall introduced a new idea of 'social citizenship' which took on board political, social and ecomonic rights. As Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservatives and then on to Prime Minister in 1979, this model was thus challenged. Thatcherism claimed they would 'alter the course on which Britain had been set by previous post war British Governments' (Loney, Boswell & Clarke, 1983, p46).
Thatcher wanted to solve Britians economic and social crisis and she didn't agree with previous Keynesian forms of managment. In fact Margaret Thatcher saw Keynesianism as the actual cause of the crises within the economy and society. Thatchers aim was to set about undoing the 'corrupt' ways of Keynesian ways and to restructure in the ways she saw as appropraite, the design of Neo-Liberalism. and Thatcher was making promises of lower taxation, lesser public spending and reduced state intervention, less spent on welfare was also her aim.
Thatcher's aims didn't all come to fruition, recession hit in 1981 and unemployment soared again, NHS spenditire and bills rose. The large welfare bills were tackled by increasing the state pension level with pricing rather than earnings, since these rose very quickly. The conservatives offered out new individual personal pensions, this was seen as a major concept of welfare innovation. Welfare bills still began to rise at a rapid rate and yet more changes were on the horizon for welfare.
The New Right percpective challenged the existing percpective on the welfare state and society and with Margaret Thatcher came this political New Right which opposed the existing traditional ways of state welfare. The changes in welfare were hugely down to this New Right perspective. They had three main attributes which were the economic critique, the organisational critique and social critique (Hughes and Lewis,1998).
The social critique of the welfare state claimed it eroded individual responsibility, created dependency upon the welfare system and produced social demoralisation. Changes in family over these years were more than apparant and this influenced the critique. It claimed the original structure of the welfare settlement was based on a patriarichal household where the man was the main income bringer and nuclear families were the nrom. By the 1980' and 90' there was a rising change in family forms and many different types of family were seen. Single parent families were very much on the rise, divorve more prelevant and children born out of wedlock.
The Conservatives were concerned about these new family types growing. They believed it would become 'socially threatening' and they're three main concern for single parent families were the cost of keeping lone parent families on state benefits, the obvious breakdown of the previously traditional nuclear family and the moral impact it would have on society.
Charles Murray in the 1990's introduced a model which was led by the 'moral under class' The key elements of his model was focused on dependency inducing availability of state provided welfare, the rise of illegitimite births and single mothers, the lack of male role models for the socialisation of children, the developing deviant morals of society and the rise in crime particualry violent crimes. According to Murray there is a loose connection between extra marital births and levels of crime and social chaos.
There are of course many critisisims of this model, given that many of the accusations are based soley on assumption and not on hard facts. The thinking is very outdated and the assumptions made that extra marital births are linked to more violent crimes. The Conservatives answer to this was to cut the cost of social security benefits and try to instill old traditional family values once more. They were eager to swing the responsibility of social welfare on to the family. The New Right Critique was based heavily on morals, they blamed the previous welfare state as contributing to the break down of the traditional nuclear family. The Conservative found that these ideas of changing family structure back to the past were unmanageable.
The New Right were keen to see the reduction of expediture, both public and social and the aim was to transfer some of the welfare services in to the private market with an aim to reduce the role of the state. The New Right condemed benefits for so many and wanted to move services from public to private thus creating a price mechanism and raise the choice of consumer, leading them in to a market led welfare provision.
The reconstruction of the welfare state focused on some main elements. Rolling back the state, decreasing public expenditure, managerialism, marketisation and privatisation, individulisation and responsibilisation and remoralisation of society. In an aim to alivate the burden of tax payers and to reduce the burden on social welfare, conservatives claimed this rolling back of the state would 'enhance individual choice and freedom' . Their aim was to decrease public spending and adopt a more pluralist approach to social welfare provision, again looking at emphasising the role of the market. They're intention was to change from welfare 'citizen' to welfare 'consumer' .
The Conservatives believed that a more consumer approach to social welfare would empower individuals (Clarke 2004). They also wanted to introduce competition, they wanted to increase the choice people have and up the quality of service recieved in a bid to decrease costs. Many privitisations took place within various industries, competitive tendering and quasi markets.
In an attempt to decrease public expenditure they adopted methods of which included cuts in social welfare spending, freezing the value of benefits, increased targets and reducing those who are elegible for benefits. This shift can be viewed as universal to selective and conditional benefits, exactly what the Conservatives hoped for.
The Conservatives also sought a more effective managment of the welfare state, this is known as manageralism. One example of this is in housing. In a bid to cut costs they introduced the Right to Buy legislation in 1980. This didn't exactly pan out as planned. Large amounts of local authority housing was snapped up but this in itself caused problems. Housing shortages for families unable to buy, it caused an increase in homelessness which is a huge problem of it's own accord and this right to buy created whats know as 'sink estates', where the best areas are bought quickly leaving the run down areas to those who have no choice. These area are often frequented by unemployed or single parent families and harbour many problems of their own. Another draw back of this was many people failed to pay their mortgages and repossesion was on the rise, this leading to families needing rehomed.
Education was yet another area that was focused upon. The main aims of this were to increase the choice for parents of which schools their kids went too, a raise in the standard of education and assisted schemes allowed children from different areas or poorer backgrounds to obtain a private education. This scheme appeared to benefit over 75'000 children and most of them from a single parent family. Again these changes were not without critisism, it was less than one percent of children that were involved and many of those children were already paying students at these private schools. So how beneficial it was appears to be very limited.
The NHS and Community Care Act were seen as succesful in taking away some responsibility from the state and placing it on the community. This Act was in general warmly recieved by both the public and those in the health proffesion. It was certainly seen that long stay care institutions were a thing of the past and a more intimate community orientated solution was apt.
It's hard to say in black or white whether the restructuring of the welfare state was a complete success or a complete failure. The Conservative aims were of course to decrease public spending, to promote traditional family morals and responsibility and to have individuals take more responsibility for themselves. They also wanted to lower who was eligible for welfare provisions. It appears they're were good and bad qualities from the restrucuring. Benefits were more closely looked at and those claiming were more widely scrutinised. The back to work schemes appeared to have a good impact although some argue that those people who returned to work would have done anyway. The community care act appeared to bring forward caring and become beneficial to those who needed it.
The Right to Buy Act failed them somewhat with the plethora of problems that were born from it's outcome. The high rise in homelessness created another huge problem to be tackled. Many critisise the privatisation of education, health care and other areas. It is clear though that some beneficial introductions were applied such as the minimum wage, tax credits and eradicating child poverty. So it seems on the whole that the good balances the bad with the reconstructure of the welfare state. Some people were certainly benefit like single working mothers where others perhaps more vulnerable shall be worse off when they actually need help the most.
In conclusion it seems the welfare state has moved a long way from before the war and it's seems to be ever evolving and changing. From post war times to the New Right perspective through to today where things are ever changing, it appears that there are plus and bad points to each system introduced and common sense and common values should be at the heart of any big government changes.