What is welfare?

Jess Blair says it is time to start talking about welfare in Wales, and how we can create a fairer and more dynamic country.

‘Welfare” is a divisive term in modern politics. Far from signifying equality and fairness it has come to be used as a pejorative. In its original form welfare was designed simply as a ‘safety net’, a means of support by the State to those in need to ensure a minimum standard of care for everyone in the UK.

This is why for this next stage of the IWA Convention, we want to create a discussion about welfare in Wales, centring on the question of how we can make Wales a fairer and more dynamic country.

Constitutional Convention

The IWA constitutional convention is underway at IWAconvention.co.uk . Please join the debate and share your ideas on welfare in Wales here, and add your comments on this piece.

The IWA constitutional convention is a crowd sourced project on the future of Wales, and the UK – an eight-week experiment in deliberative democracy to run in parallel with discussions at Westminster. There are two critical elements to our plans; we are asking questions, and not pre-judging the outcomes, and we are putting people at the centre of our conversation. Everyone can take part, and anyone can shape the conversation.

We are running this innovative project in 5 phases over 8 weeks:

  • 26th Jan-1st Feb: What is the UK for?
  • 2nd-15th Feb: How do we create a more prosperous Wales? (The economy)
  • 16th Feb-1st Mar: How do we make Wales a fairer country? (The Welfare State)
  • 2nd-15th Mar: What is the future of the UK? Includes reaction to the Secretary of State’s announcements around Welsh devolution near St David’s day.
  • 16th-20th Mar: What is Wales for?

Over the course of this project we hope to engage people, start dialogues and ignite debate around questions that are key to both Wales’ future and what kind of a future that will be.

Go to IWAconvention.co.uk to have your say.

Currently welfare, in terms of social security, is reserved to the UK Government, meaning that policy changes to things like housing benefit, winter fuel payments and even pensions are controlled by the Westminster Government. The Welsh Government has no powers over any of these issues, however, Scotland will soon receive some powers over welfare.

The Smith Commission, the committee established by David Cameron to look at powers for Scotland after the referendum on independence, recommended a limited transfer of welfare powers to the Scottish Government. This has been taken forward in the draft Scotland Bill, which will legislate on these recommendations after the next General Election. Once passed Scotland will have control over almost £3 billion worth of welfare powers. This includes;

  • The housing element of universal credit
  • carers allowance
  • winter fuel payments
  • personal independence payments
  • attendance allowance

Once agreed the Scottish Government will have the power to implement different policies in these areas reflecting their own political values. For example, mitigating the impact of the ‘spare room subsidy’, otherwise known as the ‘bedroom tax’, in Scotland.

For the first time since the formation of the Welfare State there will be different approaches to benefits in parts of the UK. Although powers are already devolved to Northern Ireland over Welfare, in practice an administrative arrangement and the policies are the same as the rest of the UK.

The changes in Scotland may therefore present significant ramifications for the rest of the UK. However, there has been little thinking about the implications for Wales. That is why this section of our constitutional convention will attempt to establish some debate around the facts on welfare for Wales.

Welfare, the facts

What people typically mean when they talk about welfare or benefits are social security payments made to those in need. This can include the old, sick, and those out of work, and people qualify for these in a variety of different ways.

See below to view a series of infographics, provided by Community Housing Cymru, which helps highlight some more facts about the welfare state.

The welfare budget has increased from £57 billion in 2001 to the current £115 billion, which the UK Government plan to maintain. This may seem a lot, however, this compared to the proportion of our GDP means that by 2017 welfare spending in the UK will be lower than France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the US.

In Wales, we face added pressures. by 2030 25% of people will be 65 or over, compared with the UK average of 22%. So while we are facing challenges now, these will intensify in the future which is why moves to give Wales greater responsibility for managing our own welfare needs are treated with caution.

Jessica Blair is the Policy and Projects Manager for the IWA and the Co-editor of Click on wales.

8 thoughts on “What is welfare?

  1. The decentralisation of the welfare system may be a desirable end in its own right. One can say that and still be a Unionist – indeed, one might argue that there is no reason to stop decentralising at the all-Wales level and that decentralisation should be to a much more local level. The great conceptual weakness in the current super-centralised model of the ‘welfare state’ adopted by the Attlee government, and considered unchangeable ever since, is that it fails to take account of the actual needs of individual communities and families. This is why it has proved, in practice, a relatively ineffective blunt instrument in tackling the root causes of poverty.

    At the same time, however, there is a strong argument against decentralisation: to be effective, the welfare system needs to be integrated with the tax system, but decentralising the tax system is a sure way of making the rich richer and the poor poorer – as Wales will probably soon discover.

    There are no easy solutions, but this much is certain: too much of the welfare budget is not being spent where it is needed most and it is not proving the route out of poverty Beveridge intended.

  2. The purpose of the welfare state was and is not to provide a route out of poverty but, as Jess rightly states, to provide a safety net when people fell on hard times should that be due to unemployment or ill health.

    The essential difficulty is that Wales is not economically well-resourced and therefore is unlikely to generate the wealth needed to provide the welfare state that Wales needs. Given the levels of poverty in Wales, particularly in the Valleys and West Wales, the demand is likely to be considerable. The strongest argument that the Unionist cause has is that the British state is able to carry out a redistributive function from which Wales benefits. Therefore the welfare needs of Wales can draw on the resources generated in London and the South East. As yet, I have not heard a convincing argument to the contrary.

    The route out of poverty is best addressed by economic policy and the principle of equality, ensuring that those who work benefit from their work. The fact that a high number of people have to receive in-work benefits and make use of food banks even though they are employed shows the extent to which the taxpayer is subsidising private sector wages. The existence of a minimum wage and the growing popularity of the living wage goes some way to addressing that. The state should provide the economic safety net which has been an essential and integral part of our society for some 65 years or more. But the fact that businesses make profits on the basis of low wages knowing that the state will pick up the tab is something that needs to be addressed.

  3. Welsh Labour, Liberal and Plaid Cymru politicians always want more money from England. But at the same time they like to bang on about the fact that Wales and the Welsh are ‘different’ from England. And hopefully becoming more and more different.

    Isn’t it time we asked ourselves if this ‘difference’ is a difference the United Kingdom can continue to afford. And if it is something worth preserving then what what exactly is it contributing to the rest of the UK.

    Me thinks it’s time we realised that we should be grateful for our lot, very grateful indeed. And perhaps we should show our immense gratitude to our closest neighbour more often (and not just by letting them win the odd rugby match).

  4. Karen is right. I hate it when Welsh people promote Wales as some sort of different place to England. The Labour Party are the worst, with their constant, over-the-top promotion of the Welsh language. The sooner we give up our Assembly, and accept that we are an English region, the better for all of us.

  5. What’s the differrence between England, Europe, Ireland and the USA?

    Should England be allowed to rule them too. So called Euro-Sceptics would love to, that’s why they don’t like Europe – because they don’t rule it.

    No! It’s our duty as Welsh, Scots and (real) Northan Irish, to make England pay for forcing her rule on us. Rather than her bleeding us dry we should bleed her dry. It is after all a forced union not a co-operative one.

  6. If we don’t like England we shouldn’t accept the money gushing in our direction from all those hard working taxpayers in England.

    Westminster rule is a benefit (or otherwise) of Unionism not English hegemony. Unlike the English we here in Wales can end our association with the Union at any time by voting for a political party seeking independence.

    I wonder what would happen if the English were also afforded the same privilege?

  7. Dai, the English live in a democracy, as we do. They can vote for whomever they like, including the English Defence League. And it isn’t a privilege. It is a democratic right. Now, Karen, you seem to think we should be content to sit in a state of beggary and just show cringing gratitude. I would prefer that we took some responsibility for our plight and tried to do something about it. For that to happen we have to have a modicum of autonomy and the ability to take responsibiity. If the Welsh don’t try and remake the Welsh economy, no-one else is going to do it for us. Wales is an unimportant place to Westminster. They’re not trying to screw us but they’re not going to pay us any particular attention either. To the extent that public policy can help in regeneration, that policy will have to come from Cardiff. The fact that it hasn’t come yet is neither here nor there. If the Welsh government is no good, throw them out and elect someone else. There is no salvation anywhere else. Got to grow up and stand on our own feet.

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