Whose Welfare State Now?

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The purpose of a welfare state should be to prevent poverty and reduce inequality. But in the UK, where many people believe that those on lower incomes only weigh on the state and where benefits become a poverty-trap rather than a way to support people back into work, this purpose is not being fulfilled. This paper argues that , to be successful, the welfare state has to collect fairly from all and redistribute fairly at the right time to meet the right needs. This paper is part of a series of papers which have resulted from the Whose Economy? seminar series, held in Scotland in 2010 – 2011, whose purpose was to provide a space for researchers, representative organisations, policy-makers and people with experience of poverty to come together and explore the causes of poverty and inequality in today’s Scotland.
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    Oxfam Discussion Papers Whose welfare state now?  A Whose Economy   Seminar Paper Adrian Sinfield June 2011   www.oxfam.org.uk  Whose   welfare   state   now?  A Whose Economy   Seminar Paper, June 2011 2 About the author Adrian Sinfield is Professor Emeritus of Social Policy at the University of Edinburgh and a continuing student of social security, poverty, unemployment and the social division of welfare. Past Chair and President of the Social Policy Association, and recipient of its first lifetime achievement award. Co-founder of the Unemployment Unit and Chair for its first ten years; and Vice-chair of the Child Poverty Action Group for eight years. Publications include Which Way for Social Work?  (1969) and What Unemployment Means  (1981). Email:  adrian.sinfield@ed.ac.uk   Whose Economy Seminar Papers  are a follow up to the series of seminars held in Scotland between November 2010 and March 2011. They are written to contribute to public debate and to invite feedback on development and policy issues. These papers are ‘ work in progress’ documents, and do not necessarily constitute final publications or reflect Oxfam policy positions. The views and recommendations expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Oxfam. For more information, or to comment on this paper, email ktrebeck@oxfam.org.uk  Whose   welfare   state   now?  A Whose Economy   Seminar Paper, June 2011 3 Contents Executive summary ................................................................................. 4   Introduction: The damaging myths of tax and benefits ....................... 5   In the UK unemployment and poverty are still linked ........................... 6   Too many paid more than they earn are part of the problem ............... 6   The wider costs of greater inequality ..................................................... 7   Conclusion - 'a society for people' ......................................................... 8 Recommendations ................................................................................... 9 References .............................................................................................. 10 Notes ....................................................................................................... 11  Whose   welfare   state   now?  A Whose Economy   Seminar Paper, June 2011 4 Executive summary „Whose welfare state?‟ is as important a question today  as it was half a century ago. Too many people believe that those on lower incomes only take and do not contribute to society. The evidence shows that those in poverty are forced to contribute a bigger share of their lower incomes in taxes, but receive inadequate benefits that make life challenging and stressful for them and their families. Far from helping people into work, these benefits trap people in poverty. The level of demand –  not the behaviour of those out of work –  is the main factor affecting both overall and long-term unemployment. Yet the widespread acceptance of tax and benefit myths makes it even more difficult to obtain support for policies that will reduce levels of poverty and inequality –  poverty and inequality which is much higher in the UK than in most other market economies. A fair welfare state needs a lower level of unemployment and better jobs, as well as better benefits. Many „countries socialise the responsibility of preventing citizens from being poor‟ much more successfully than the UK has don e. 1 We need to learn from them and give greater priority to reducing inequalities. This paper argues that, to be successful, the welfare state has to collect fairly from all and redistribute fairly at the right time to meet the right needs. We must vigorously challenge the myths of taxation and benefits. We need to work to establish „a society for people‟ where the welfare state prevents poverty and reduces inequality.
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