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Welfare Reform
Means-tested versus Universal Benefits

By John Grieve Smith
January 2001
Spokesman Books
ISBN: 0-85124-643-5
24 pages
$6.95 paper original

Despite the wide ranging series of changes in social security that the Government have introduced, the area of so-called 'Welfare Reform' is one in which New Labour polices are to a large extent still dominated by the Thatcherite consensus. After two decades of attacking Tory Governments' increasing reliance on means-testing, New Labour is itself moving further and further down the same road, as the latest proposals in the Pre-Budget Report make plain. The proposed increases in the basic state pension and Minimum Income Guarantee will give welcome help to pensioners in the short run; but in the longer run, Gordon Brown's insistence on continuing to link pensions and other benefits to prices, rather than earnings, will make them an increasingly inadequate substitute for lost earnings when people retire, or are unemployed or sick. We are now at a cross-roads where a basic political decision has to be made: whether to restore and update the initial post-war policy of relying primarily on contributory or universal benefits, or to continue the shift towards mens-testing, with the inevitable implication that other benefits will eventually be phased out altogether.

About the Author:
John Grieve Smith is a Fellow of Robinson College, Cambridge

Political Science; Urban Affairs
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