Posted by: Sam Carson | 12 January, 2008

David Cameron and Social Policy

Does Tory leader David Cameron’s new welfare plan work? This from his newsletter to supporters:

“Our radical programme is designed to end the culture of long-term welfare dependency, and involves measures such as time limits on out-of-work benefits and US-style return-to-work programmes for jobseekers.”

Who are these people, and how did this begin? Well, they are the former working class. Their previous jobs were in manufacturing, steel working, coal mining, etc. The sector where they had a culture of employment has been shipped overseas as Britain became a services economy. It came about from long stretches of unemployment brought on by previous Tory governments, as we can see with unemployment figures.

UK Unemployment Rate 1971-2006

Source: Office for National Statistics, Time Series Data, ESDS International, (MIMAS) University of Manchester.

Mr. Cameron’s Green Paper wants to introduce workfare policies to eliminate this culture of welfare dependency. However, workfare is a dubious idea. Robert E. Goodin dissects the Australian workfare policy in his article “Structures of Mutual Obligation”(1), showing workfare is based on these three flawed concepts

  • Government support is conditional upon work completed.
  • Labour in employment is the only currency that a citizen can provide
  • That the exchange between labour and government support must be immediate.

I’m sure Mr. Cameron would disagree that government support is conditional, or that labour is the only currency that one can contribute to society (versus being a home carer, motherhood, volunteering, etc.). I’m sure he understands that welfare can be viewed as an investment in future taxpayers. After all, at the launch of his green paper he said:

“Having a job and working is good for you. Not just because you can pay the bills and put food on the table, but it is a way to get on and make something of your life.”

In this I agree with him. Who wouldn’t? Unfortunately, this plan still does not address the underlying concern. There is still no viable replacement for the manufacturing industry that left in the 1980s to serve as jobs for the working classes. What will a guy on a council estate in Leeds accept as a job? Flipping burgers at MacDonalds?

Nobody has figured this out, its the same problem in any economy that has shifted from a manufacturing economy to a service economy without the support of a resource based economy (which is why it isn’t as much of a problem in Canada). Reducing the working class to minimum wage earning service staff is not an answer. This culture of welfare dependency comes from a the lack of a job sector that can provide sustained employment.

1) Goodin, R.E., 2002. Structures of Mutual Obligation. Journal of Social Policy, 31(4), p.579-596. Available Here: [accessed 16:06:12 8, 2008].


  1. The welfare state has proved to be the biggest political experiment of all time.

    It makes people dependent on the government for their survival and leads to a situation where those with the desire and ability to create wealth are taxed to the point of it not being worthwhile.

    Rather than hand-outs, all the unemployed should be offered paid government jobs, building the infrastructure, caring for the elderly etc This would give these people some of the respect and pride back, which the current system promulgates.

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