Reform — Past and Present
Throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s there was a basic consensus between the major British political parties that saw them largely embrace, albeit with some differences of opinion, the central tenets of Beveridge’s ideas modified by the fact that, when in power, both the Labour and Conservative parties had allowed means-tested benefits to assume a far greater importance in the provision of social security than was envisaged by Sir William Beveridge. However, the four sucessive Conservative governments of 1979 to 1997 brought a fundamental change in approach. Rejecting Beveridge’s idea that the state should provide financial assistance ‘from the cradle to the grave’ to those deemed to be in need, reforms were directed towards reducing the role of the state in providing financial support to those in need. This manifested itself in a number of ways. Most obviously, from 1980 benefits were uprated in line with prices rather than with wages, the consequence of which was that benefit levels fell sharply in comparison to the standard of living enjoyed by those not having to resort to state support, e.g. between 1978 and 1987 a married couple’s normal entitlement to supplementary benefit fell from 61% of personal disposable income per capita to 53%. Secondly, increased conditions were imposed on eligibility for entitlement to benefits. Thus, as an example, in 1989 the requirement to be ‘actively seeking work’ was added to that of being ‘available for work’ for those claiming unemployment benefit while, when jobseeker’s allowance replaced unemployment benefit in 1996, a further requirement of needing to agree a ‘jobseeker’s agreement’ was also imposed.
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