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To What Extent Does the Welfare State of 2018 Resemble Beveridge’s Original Vision?

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The welfare state – defined as a system whereby a nation supports its citizens’ health and well-being, particularly those who are socially or financially vulnerable – originates from welfare reforms created between 1906 and 1914 by the liberal party (which later became the liberal democrats). These reforms would expand over the next few decades and in 1942, Sir William Beveridge, an economist and later an MP published a report titled ‘Social Insurance and Allied Services’ which was influential in establishing the welfare state as we know it today. In this report, he identified 5 ‘Giant Evils’ within society: want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness – which his proposed reforms would combat. Moreover, many believe that the Welfare State should be equal, comprehensive, collectivist, universal and should provide ‘from cradle to grave’. This essay will explore how the welfare state of 2018 resembles Beveridge’s vision for welfare reform through examining the ways in which the 5 ‘Giant Evils’ have or have not been satisfied by government programmes, incentives and legislation.

 

The first ‘giant evil’ of society outlined by Beveridge is ‘want’ or ‘the need for an adequate income for all’ (The Open University, n.d.). However, it could be argued that this has not been upheld in 2018 and this can be displayed through the failure of universal credit as well as the failure to tackle income inequality within the UK.

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Universal Credit was introduced in 2013 and claimed to be a ‘brand new benefits system…fit for the 21st century’ (McVey, 2018). In reality, this ‘new’ benefits system combined the previous six benefits into one and produced several problems. Under the original system, a claim for benefits would be fulfilled within two weeks yet under universal credit many claimants can expect to wait for up to 10, even 12 weeks at a time which meant that those left without money for up to 3 months were pushed into debt, arrears and homelessness (Timmins, 2017). Furthermore, The Trussell Trust found that after universal credit had been present in an area for one year the demand for foodbanks increased by 52%. They also discovered that 70% of claimants found themselves in debt, 57% suffered with mental and physical health and 56% experienced housing issues (The Trussell Trust, 2018). If we consider the failings of the universal credit system, it could be said that it does not provide an adequate income for all due to the long and unnecessary waiting periods that forced citizens into further poverty and therefore, did not provide an adequate income for all.

Income inequality is a big issue within the UK. The Gini Index, which measures income distribution with regards to equality, states that 0% means total equality while 1% means total inequality. The UK has the second highest value within the EU at 0.35% (OECD, 2018). Furthermore, statistics from the ‘Households Below Average Income Report’ show that approximately 46.4 million people in the UK are in poverty – whether that be relative or absolute poverty (Peter Matejic, 2018). As stated by Full Fact (2018) relative poverty is defined as someone who is unable to afford activities and opportunities that the average person can whereas absolute poverty is defined by the UN as someone who cannot afford the basic necessities of life (food, water, shelter). However, the UK government instead refers to absolute poverty as 60% of the median income. Given that approximately 70% of the UK’s population are considered by the government to be in poverty, it could be suggested that ‘the need for an adequate income’ has not been met by the welfare state.

 

The second ‘giant evil’ of society outlined by Beveridge is ‘disease’ or ‘the need for access to healthcare’ (The Open University, n.d.). It could be considered that this has not been upheld in 2018 as is displayed by recent financial pressure on the NHS and budget cuts as a result of austerity.

The NHS was founded in 1948 by the Labour Party as a result of the National Health Service Act 1946, which has now been superseded by more recent legislation. Its 3 main principles are to meet the needs of everyone, to be free at the point of delivery and that it be based on clinical need rather than ability to pay (The National Health Service, 2018). Many issues have threatened the NHS in recent years, namely financial pressure and the threat of privatisation. It could be argued that the financial pressures faced by the NHS have had a negative impact on the quality of care. Some consider sexual health services to be the worst hit area. Genito-urinary medicine (GUM) services for example, which aim to test for, treat and prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea have seen an increase in demand but despite this, the budget has been cut. This particular service is under the commission of local authorities and funding for these authorities has shrunk by 26% since 2009/10. Moreover, public health budgets were cut by £200 million in 2015/16 and local authorities have been tasked with saving a further £600 million by 2020/21 (Robertson, et al., 2017) which suggests that we may see further cuts to GUM service funding and therefore, decreasing the accessibility to these services. Furthermore, if we look into the cumulative increase between NHS trust spending and income, it is clear that the NHS is spending far more than its budget allows (Morse, 2016). As a result of this, it can be assumed that there will be a decrease in staffing, cuts made to certain services and a potential for increased charges. An example of this are claims that the NHS may begin charging a fee for an appointment with a doctor (GP) of approximately £25 (Hooke, 2018), stating that this will reduce NHS spending and improve the quality of care by providing doctors with more time with patients and offsetting the costs of those who book appointments only to then not attend. This has already occurred with dentalcare which is no longer under the provision of the NHS for over 18s. However, this could be seen as a barrier to the access of healthcare – therefore not meeting Beveridge’s vision – as those on low-incomes may not be able to afford the fee to see a doctor or dentist.

 

The third ‘giant evil’ of society outlined by Beveridge is ‘ignorance’ or ‘the need for access to educational opportunity’ (The Open University, n.d.). Although, it could be said that this has not been met as of 2018 due to the barriers of tuition fees for higher education and lacking literacy skills.

It could be said that tuition fees within the UK (with the exception of Scotland) are a barrier to educational opportunity. Since 2010, the percentage of young people who believe that attending university is important has declined from 86% in 2013 to just 75% in 2018 with 46% of all adolescents reporting that they felt anxious about the cost of going to university (The Sutton Trust, 2018). This would appear to suggest that tuition fees are a barrier to higher education institutions for many young people within the UK. In contrast, statistics have shown an increase in the number of people attending university at an undergraduate level in the UK from 65% in 2012/13 to 69% in 2016/17 (Higher Education Statistics Agency, 2018). However, at the same time the average student loan debt in England has more than doubled since 2012 when it was £17,000 to 2018 with an average of £34,800 (Statista, 2018). It could therefore be said that there is a direct connection between the increased number of students and the increase in student debt. Moreover, there has been an increase in university students from low-income families (Jeffreys, 2018) and it could be argued that the cost and barriers to educational opportunity have forced young people, in particular those from low-income families, into large amounts of debt. Furthermore, around 6.7 million people in the UK lack basic literacy skills which could be seen as a direct result of a lack of educational opportunity (National Literacy Trust, 2018).

 

The fourth ‘giant evil’ of society outlined by Beveridge is ‘squalor’ or ‘the need for adequate housing’ (The Open University, n.d.). Nevertheless, many would argue that due to homelessness and private renting issues, this has not yet been achieved.

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Homelessness in the UK is becoming an increasingly important issue. In England alone, there were 1,768 rough sleepers in 2010 and in 2017 this became 4,751 – an increase of 169% (Homeless Link, 2017). This indicates that those in need of adequate housing is increasing drastically and this will continue to happen unless provisions are put in place. In May 2018, the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 came into force. This act outlined the provisions which government would put into place in order to ‘halve rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminate it altogether by 2027’ (Javid, 2018). Despite this progressive move, Centrepoint, a youth homelessness charity, has stated that there is not sufficient funding to meet the aims of the act and that less than 50% of youths had received support with regards to homelessness (Brady, 2018). This is even more shocking considering that the number of vacant properties in England has risen to more than 200,000 with London having the highest amount (Christie, 2018). Furthermore, Westminster in London is said to have the highest number of homeless people at approximately 255,000 (Shaw, 2016). This shows that perhaps with more intervention, the majority of homeless people in London could find somewhere to call home. This would appear to show that while the government initiatives have attempted to provide adequate housing for all, this has still not been achieved and has not been pursued as far as it should have been. It could be considered that the government’s aim of eliminating homelessness by 2027 has been grossly overestimated.

 

The fifth ‘giant evil’ of society outlined by Beveridge is ‘idleness’ or ‘the need for gainful employment’ (The Open University, n.d.). Despite this, many may believe that while employment levels have reached an all-time high, some groups have not benefitted from gainful employment due to wage disparities.

In June 2018, the government reported that the employment rate peaked with 75.6% of the population in employment with further figures showing that the rates of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups, women, youth and over 50’s employment had improved (McVey & Sharma, 2018). This indicates that the ‘need for gainful employment’ has, so far, been met. However, there have also been reports that job vacancies in the UK have hit a record high due to EU migrants fleeing the UK before Britain leaves the European Union – these EU migrant workers largely originate from central and eastern European countries such as the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary and Slovenia (Wearden, 2018). For some regions of the UK, such as East Anglia, these workers are deemed ‘crucial’ to certain industries such as agriculture – the loss of EU migrant workers to areas like these would prove to be significantly negative in economic terms as businesses contemplate moving (Noble, 2018).

To combat wage disparity between different groups the government have introduced incentives such as the ‘Think, Act, Report’ which involves identifying, addressing and reporting on issues relevant to gender inequality in the workplace (Government Equalities Office, 2016); it has been successful; reporting that 70% of workplaces gather more data on gender inequality, 59% publish more information externally and 80% have conducted a pay analysis in the past 2 years (Government Equalities Office, 2014). However, there are still gaps – most notably, between men and women. Statistics show that 77% of median hourly pay is higher for men. Furthermore, the disparity between men and women is approximately 10%, yet after having their first child this increases to 30% (McGuinness & Pyper, 2018). Although, it has been found that 80% of Britons feel ‘proud of their work’. A survey conducted for the BBC revealed that 86% of public sector workers were proud of their work compared with 77% of those working in the private sector. Regarding job satisfaction and gender differences; 74% of women enjoy their jobs while only 63% of men do (BBC News, 2017). This demonstrates that there are various ways to interpret ‘gainful employment’. Employment is on the rise and overall, British citizens appear to be enjoying work which could be considered to be the most important aspect of ‘gainful employment’, however, it could also be said that more could still be done to improve gainful employment with respect to income for certain groups, i.e. women.

 

To conclude, it is clear to see that the vast majority of aims which were laid out by Beveridge have not been fulfilled as of 2018 despite numerous attempts to meet these aims and improve upon them by the government. Furthermore, many of the principles of the welfare state (equal, comprehensive, universal and collectivist) have not been adhered to; particularly with regards to income, education and healthcare. From this, we can safely say that the welfare state of 2018 does not clearly resemble Beveridge’s original vision.

Bibliography

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