In the Name of Liberalism: Illiberal Social Policy in the USA and Britain

By Desmond King | Go to book overview

7

'Aroused like one from sleep': From New Poor
Law to Contractual Workfare

IN April 1998, the Labour administration, led by Tony Blair, introduced a massive 'welfare to work' programme or more grandly a 'New Deal', a workfare scheme targeted on the young and long-term unemployed designed to facilitate their entry to the labour market. Intellectually and historically this initiative, which consolidates significant reforms undertaken by the preceding Conservative administration, was characterized by Frank Field (the minister charged with 'thinking the unthinkable' about the welfare system 1), as the third stage in a fourfold vision of welfare provision. In this schema, stage one consists in the nineteenth-century Poor Law relief of pauperism and destitution; stage two, both the Lloyd George Liberal administration of 1906-11 and the 1945-51, Beveridge inspired, Attlee government's attack on poverty and need. Stage three will be the welfare to work programme (combined with education reforms) intended to prevent poverty; and stage four envisage welfare state programmes transmogrified into 'well-being not welfare' measures. 2

Absent from this stepwise framework is an appreciation of the historical dominance of a liberal contractarian approach (manifest, for example, in the New Poor Law and in the Conservatives' welfare programme) which has been used to justify treating the unemployed or welfare recipients in highly directive ways. This chapter supplies both this historical perspective and an analysis of the intellectual sources of workfare programmes. I argue that workfare is best thought of as taking one of two forms: first, as an institution to deter potential paupers seeking relief, an aim dominant in the nineteenth-century New Poor Law; and, second, as schemes designed contractually to oblige recipients of benefits to undertake an activity or to participate in a training programme in exchange for that assistance. 3 Although

____________________
1
For this description see 'Analysis: Welfare Reform', Guardian, 21 Oct. 1997.
2
As set out in Field's Keith Joseph Memorial Lecture at the Centre of Policy Studies on 15 Jan. 1998. For a formal statement of this fourfold model see Department of Social Security, New Ambitions for our Country: A New Contract for Welfare (London: HMSO 1998, Cm. 3805), esp. p. 80 where a table Summarizes the respective duties of government and of individuals in the new welfare contract.
3
Deacon (1997) distinguishes three justifications for workfare: deterrence; utilitarian; and paternalistic arguments. I think the first two categories overlap.

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