Creeping Conditionality in the UK: From Welfare Rights to Conditional Entitlements? (1)

By Dwyer, Peter | Canadian Journal of Sociology, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

Creeping Conditionality in the UK: From Welfare Rights to Conditional Entitlements? (1)


Dwyer, Peter, Canadian Journal of Sociology


Abstract: A widely recognised central tenet of New Labour's "Third Way" is no rights without responsibilities. The extent to which this idea underpins the British government's approach to welfare reform has been extensively commented upon. Initially, the article places the UK reforms in the context of wider theoretical debates about welfare reform in Western states, It then highlights the ways in which a principle of conditionality is being practically applied in a wide range of sectors in the UK including; social security, housing, education, and health. The details and impact of recent relevant legislation and initiatives are discussed, It is argued that as policies based on conditional entitlement become central to the ongoing process of welfare reform the very idea of "welfare rights" is systematically undermined.

Resume: L'un des fondements de la << Troisieme Voie >> du Parti Travailliste est l'absence de droits sans responsabilites. La portee reelle de l'influence de cette idee sur l'approche du gouvernement britannique au sujet de la reforme de l'aide sociale a ete largement commentee. Dans un premier temps, l'article replace les reformes britanniques dans le contexte plus vaste des debats theoriques au sujet de la reforme de l'aide sociale dans les pays occidentaux. Il souligne ensuite la maniere dont le principe de conditionnalite est mis en oeuvre dans une grande variete de secteurs au Royaume-Uni: notamment la securite du revenu, le logement, l'education et la sante. Les details et l'impact d'initiatives et de legislations recentes en ces domaines se trouvent analyses. Il s'agit de demontrer que l'avenement de politiques fondees sur le principe de conditionnalite s'est place au centre d'un processus de reforme de l'aide sociale qui erode systematiquement l'idee meme de << droits sociaux >>.

Introduction

According to Giddens (1998) the prime motto of Third Way politics is no "rights without responsibilities" (:65). Indeed, the extent to which this principle underpins the British Government's general approach to welfare reform has been extensively commented upon (Deacon, 2002a; Dwyer, 2002, 2000, 1998; Prideaux, 2001; Etzioni, 2000; Lister, 1998; Powell, 1999). (2) Following this introduction, part one of the paper places the recent UK welfare reforms, which have a "principle of conditionality" at their core, within a discussion of the wider emergence of "active/Third Way" social policies in many Western welfare states. Part two then highlights the ways in which conditionality is being practically applied in an increasingly wide range of UK welfare policy areas namely; social security, housing, education, and health. Details of recent, relevant legislation and initiatives in these sectors are discussed. Part three, moves on to explore some of the effects of this approach for welfare provision. It is argued that as policies based on conditional entitlement become central to New Labour's vision the very idea of "welfare rights" is systematically undermined. The implications of this approach, in terms of New Labour's welfare project and, more generally, citizens' social rights are noted in the conclusion.

Echoing the earlier work of R. Kent Weaver (1986), Pierson argues that "the contemporary politics of the welfare state is the politics of blame avoidance" (1996:179). Third Way welfare reforms that stress reduced access to public welfare provision, a strong link between rights and responsibilities, and an increasingly moral agenda meet the requirements of cost containing governments rather than the needs of citizens. The welfare rights of those deemed "irresponsible" because they cannot, or will not, meet certain state endorsed standards or regulations may be withdrawn or reduced. This enables politicians to place the blame for the predicament of those whose right to publicly funded welfare is reduced or removed firmly at the door of the individuals concerned. …

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