People are turning against welfare, other than help for the elderly and disabled, doubtful that politicians give money to the right people for the right reasonsby Peter Kellner / February 22, 2012 / Leave a comment
Published in March 2012 issue of Prospect Magazine
Since the 1980s, there has been a “marked decline in support for redistribution.” Photograph by Martin Parr, chronicler of modern Britain
If David Cameron didn’t know before, he surely knows it now: few political potatoes are as hot as welfare. For 100 years—from David Lloyd George’s plan for retirement pensions, via the Beveridge Report 70 years ago and a succession of postwar strategies for state benefits—politicians of every stripe have tried to build a lasting settlement. The government’s welfare reform bill is the latest attempt, and it is having as rough a ride as all the others.
At one level, controversy is inevitable. Welfare reform is a detailed, messy business. Almost any change is likely to throw up stories of genuine, if atypical, losers who don’t deserve their ill fortune. (The equally atypical, undeserving big winners tend to keep quiet about their luck.) When the Treasury is flush with cash, it can throw money at this particular problem. Reform when times are tight makes such stories impossible to avoid.