Welfare State Futures Oxford Paper
10 October 2017
Peter Taylor-Gooby presented a paper to the 'The Politics of Austerity in the UK' Symposium, chaired by Christopher Hood and Rozana Himaz, at St Cross College Oxford on 4 October. He argued, using data from his Norface project, that popular discussion of the welfare state in the UK is characterised by a 'Reluctant Individualist' framing. This stresses the incompetence of government, demonstrated by policies that promote mass immigration (seen, counterfactually, as a burden on social provision), divert resources to the workshy on benefits, mismanage state spending and impose high taxes on those who work for their money. The government fails to provide opportunities for those who are prepared to work hard, thus exacerbating inequalities and unfairnesses. The outcome is that many people see their future life chances as shaped by their own efforts with little welfare state support. This individualism is reluctant: they would prefer a strong and effective welfare state, but think that the government is not capable of providing it. Participants, including John Hills and Jonathon Bradshaw, saw this current of ideas as providing a powerful explanation of the toleration of damaging welfare state cuts that is evident in contemporary politics.
Peter Taylor-Gooby is Research Professor of Social Policy in the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, with special interest in current developments in the welfare state.