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A poster protesting welfare cuts. Image: Byzantine_K

Universal welfare benefits, available to all regardless of income, have long animated the politics of the welfare state. Prime Ministers from Atlee to Cameron have grappled with the universal principle, whereby certain benefits are given to all citizens, even the rich. Universalism goes against the notion that benefits should always target the poor. Defended by some, lambasted by others, the idea of benefits for all has divided opinion within and between parties.

At times, universalism has served the cause of good policy. It underpins the notion that risks are shared by all in…

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