3. Universally preventative.
The widespread nature of an aging population and ill health due to modern lifestyles and endemic job insecurity means costly-targeted systems should be replaced by services that are open to all in a way that is universally preventative; this means providing services for everyone to reduce harm to us all. This universalism is essential to the renewal of the welfare state; it reduces stigma, ensures proper take-up, is more efficient to deliver, promotes gender equality, binds all into a progressive taxation system and ensures the
sharp tongues and elbows of the middle classes improve services in a way the benefits everyone. It is no wonder that by all measures of economic and social success, international league tables are topped by societies with strong universal welfare states.
It is important to note that the so-called ‘universal’ credit which aims to combine both in-work and out-of-work benefits for those on low incomes within a single unified model is not
universal at all but cements means-testing into the foundations of the social security system
(while contributory benefits are being further marginalised at the same time). It also ontains
more conditionality than the existing system. More information on the universal credit can be read on the Inclusion website at http://www.cesi.org.uk/keypolicy/universal-credit
This excellent report from The Jimmy Reid Foundation demonstrates the effectiveness and
efficiency of universal welfare: http://bit.ly/15BRGbD
These papers from the new economics foundation show the importance of upstream
prevention over downstream rescue: http://bit.ly/15BRSrf
4. Social security and gender equality We’ve already pointed out that cuts to social
security will disproportionately impact women for a host of reasons. Women will also face
disproportionate pressure from reduced social security because they are usually the ones that manage household budgets and therefore can be seen as the ‘shock-absorbers’ of poverty. A good social security system has to acknowledge the importance of women’s financial autonomy through paying decent social security on an individual basis
It is no wonder that by all measures of economic and social success, international league tables are topped by societies with strong universal welfare states.
No one was born wanting to live their lives on the couch, avoiding not just work but the opportunity to make the most of their life, and very few do so.
Changing the Narrative:
This economic and social analysis of what is happening to people’s lives chimes with a set of beliefs:
The renewal of the welfare state starts with a refusal to believe the worst of our neighbours, colleagues, friends and family and seeks to rebuild it by believing the best in people. No
one was born wanting to live their lives on the couch, avoiding not just work but the opportunity to make the most of their life, and very few do so. We are only fully human
when we are creative and engaged in society with other people. Yet we must be given the
space and opportunity to be a part of and add to our society- whether that be through paid
work, caring for a family member, running a household, or being a part of our community.
It is about time we start seeing the unpaid work people do, such as care work, as priceless.
Priceless both because it is impossible to quantify its true value to society and impossible to imagine a market economy and human society without it.
This renewal also starts with the belief that we are born equal, that is, we are born with an
equal right to make the most of the wonderfully different talents and attributes we have. We must celebrate difference and support those who were born into lives of lesser privilege.
But that notion of fundamental equality requires society to intervene to equal out as many life chances as possible, which is one reason why policies such as Sure Start centers are so vital.
Poverty is not the fault of ‘the poor.’ The unemployed are not the problem, unemployment
is. From birth to death we are all increasingly vulnerable, to loss of work, our health,
emotional stability or family breakdown through divorce or death. Even if we are lucky –
someone close to us won’t be. We really are all in it together.
We should stand against the politics that uses these insecure times to encourage the worst instincts in people – to resent those who need extra help.
We should stand against the politics that uses these insecure times to encourage the worst instincts in people – to resent those who need extra help. We should be framing conversations around the central ideal of fostering a supportive, collaborative society.
Language is vital. You may have noticed we have used the term social security in this
document, this is because welfare has become contaminated by its association with a US-style residual poor relief for people of working age. We need to reclaim and own the phrase social security as not simply a bureaucratic means but representative of an end to which society aspires; a society that provides security. It expresses the desire to achieve, insofar as is possible, genuine economic security for all through social means. For more on this see Ruth Lister in the Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/aug/28/robin-hood-poor-welfare
We must set the tone and create language that is reflective of the kind of society we want to live in. We must not fall into the trap of using the populist and damaging language of those that seek to undermine social security. Public attitudes are not set in stone and it is time politicians and civil society started talking to the generous side
of public nature.
We must set the tone and create language that is reflective of the kind of society we want to live in. We must not fall into the trap of using the populist and damaging language of those that seek to undermine social security. Public attitudes are not set in stone and it is time politicians and civil society started talking to the generous side of public nature.
When talking about what levels benefits should be set at, it is useful to talk in terms of a level that is ‘adequate for need’, as socially defined. Having benefits set below adequate levels means it is even harder for people to make the transition back to work, leading to misery and disruption for those that need it and costing the exchequer more in the long term.
What is even more effective than ‘case studies’ is telling your own personal stories about why you care about social security.
The Personal Stories
Whilst facts are always important, personal anecdotes often have more of a persuasive
impact. After all, the right use them all the time to demonise social security recipients.
describing the reality of life on inadequate social security. For example, this story from
the website demonstrates the ‘striving’ that is required just to get by:
I used to be a member of St John’s ambulance until I found work; I have since tried to re-join them but due to injury I am unable to.
I was involved in a car crash when I was 20. I worked through the pain until I was 34, then having slipped off the back of a lorry I was forced to claim benefits.
I find it very hard to heat my council flat and now with the reforms I have to find money for council tax, the cap has made it impossible for me to eat properly so will only be able to eat once a day if I’m lucky.
What is even more effective than ‘case studies’ is telling your own personal stories about why you care about social security. This briefing by Marshall Ganz is a guide to how to construct a good personal story which campaigners can then use in many situations – download it at: http://bit.ly/15BTIs9
Vital to winning the battle for an adequate system of social security is holding thousands
of conversations across the UK that help persuade others of its importance. Talking to friends and family, those that you have a relationship with, is probably the best place to
start. You could start with some questions to help frame the conversation:
Q. Do you feel that we should have an adequate system of social security in the UK?
Q. Do you or have you claimed social security? If so, do you feel it is adequate?
Q. Do you feel it is fair that the government says that social security must be cut as a
result of the banking/economic crisis?
Other questions can help cut through the myths around this debate such as:
Q. How many families do you think there are where two (or more) generations have never
Research for Bristol University found that just 0.1% of unemployed people came from homes in which two generations have never worked. Intensive research by the JRF, referred to earlier, could find no families in which three generations of worklessness existed. If such families exist, they can only account for a minuscule fraction of
unemployed people (See http://bit.ly/13HSeya and http://bit.ly/15BTNfx for more).
Benefit fraud (and error) is a miniscule 0.7% of the entire social security budget, benefit fraud alone is less than 0.7%.
Q. How much of the social security bill is accounted by benefit fraud?
Suggested Answer: Benefit fraud (and error) is a miniscule 0.7% of the entire social security budget, benefit fraud alone is less than 0.7%.
Q. How much of the social security bill is spent on unemployment benefits?
Suggested Answer: A very small 3% of the budget And remember the link to the Red Pepper myths article we provided earlier. http://bit.ly/13HSNbp
It is also useful to engage in debates in local newspapers and on local radio to help challenge misconceptions around social security. The same principles apply, it is important to be armed with facts but telling compelling stories is also vital.
Some concrete ideas:
We shouldn’t be afraid of suggesting alternative ways of modernizing social security and
reducing the social security bill without reducing entitlements through measures such as:
Creating thousands of well-paid jobs.
A real Green New Deal would be the best policy option. By investing in the new infrastructure Britain needs for transport, renewables and homes. For more on this see http://www.compassonline.org.uk/publications/
Affordable high quality childcare and elderly care support is crucial in this context. This removes a major barrier for women who want to re-enter the workforce or continue to work throughout their adult life. Research has also shown that it narrows the gap between high and low income households. http://www.resolutionfoundation.org/media/media/downloads/Gaining_from_growth_-_The_final_report_of_the_Commission_on_Living_Standards.pdf
Overall the money the country makes, through all of our efforts, has to be more evenly split between workers, shareholders and executives. This would reduce the reliance of workers on tax credits and reduce in-work poverty and inequality.
Through the fog of policy detail, claim and counter claim there are two very different visions of Britain emerging. One takes us back to a pre-1945 era, even a pre-1906 moment, in essence back to the workhouse and the divide between a deserving and undeserving
poor (a sentiment which has never fully gone away). But a different future is becoming more
and more attainable because it goes with the grain of people’s lives and experience.
It builds on the 1945 successes of the NHS
and the rest of the welfare state, but remakes
a society that is secure for all in our times. If
we could do it then – we have to do it now.
Let’s make it happen.