Christianity and Social Justice: exploring the meaning of welfare reform


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This presentation was given to the Archbishop of York and to bishops from the North East of England and Yorkshire. It explores the current crisis in the welfare state in the UK, the myths that dominate thinking and outlines the Christian case for some new and deeper thinking about the purpose and design of the welfare state.

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Christianity and Social Justice: exploring the meaning of welfare reform

  1. 1. Christianity & Social Justice exploring the meaning of welfare reform Dr Simon Duffy ■ The Centre for Welfare Reform ■ 11th September 2013 ■ Meeting of Bishops, Bishopthorpe Palace, York, YO23 2GE
  2. 2. Dr Simon Duffy • Worked with disabled people for 24 years; invented personal budgets and other social innovations; founded and led several charities and services. • Awarded RSA Prince Albert Medal 2008 and SPA Award for Outstanding Contribution in Social Policy 2011. • Christian, philosopher and writer with a special interest in ethics and social justice. • Director of The Centre for Welfare Reform, Chair of the Housing & Support Alliance, Policy Advisor to the Campaign for a Fair Society and Senior Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham. • Not a member of any particular political party.
  3. 3. 1. The welfare state is under attack 2. Our understanding of welfare is confused 3. The Church could help us rethink welfare
  4. 4. What’s wrong with the welfare state?
  5. 5. After meeting with community groups in the North of England a Finnish researcher asked: “What’s the problem with ‘welfare’? In Finnish it just means ‘well being’”
  6. 6. Today ‘welfare reform’ is a central political project. The current government - building on the work of the previous government - is pursuing policies that are justified in strong moral terms and which seek to increase employment, personal responsibility and stronger communities. However, as these goals are converted into practical policies and media soundbites they often seem to reinforce bigotry, ignorance and injustice. [NB. The “Benefit Thieves” Campaign was developed by New Labour.]
  7. 7. The terms ‘austerity’ and ‘fairness’ are used to justify cuts in public spending and welfare reforms. but these cuts target the very people that a fair society should protect.
  8. 8. not everything is cut, and some cuts are deeper
  9. 9. local government and benefits face deepest cuts
  10. 10. £72 billion of cuts
  11. 11. Most cuts fall in two areas:
  12. 12. Child Benefit freeze Abolition of Sure Start Maternity for second and subsequent children Change to CPI indexation of benefits Reductions in support for carers Replacing DLA with PIP Child Benefit clawback from higher rate taxpayers Time-limiting of contributory ESA Transfer of Social Fund to local government Council Tax Benefit – 10% reduction and localisation Extension of JSA lone parents with a youngest child aged 5-6 Housing Benefit cuts Household Benefit cap Abolition of the Independent Living Fund Continued use of ATOS or others Universal Credit Reductions in ‘Access to Work’ funding Closure of Remploy services Abolition of the Child Trust Fund Tax credit changes Abolition of the Health in Pregnancy Grant Abolition of the Child Trust Fund Abolition of the ESA youth rules
  13. 13. government controls over 40% of GDP
  14. 14. but most cuts are targeted in just a few areas
  15. 15. 60% of local government is social care
  16. 16. The cuts in benefits and the cuts in social care fall disproportionately on two overlapping groups: people in poverty and disabled people (including children and frail older people). They fall hardest of all on people with the most severe disabilities, who rely on both benefits and social care.
  17. 17. There is no discussion of the real cause of the current crisis: over-borrowing by home owners & over-lending by banks.
  18. 18. debt was fed by a housing bubble
  19. 19. interest rates are now at unusually low levels
  20. 20. this creates a hidden redistribution towards mortgage holders
  21. 21. ‘Welfare reform’ has become code for a redistribution of resources away from the poorest and towards the better off. In the competition for political power politicians are taking care to ensure that they target benefits on swing voters: home owners, families with two employed parents, middle-income earners. The median voter is more important than any other. We live in a medianocracy.
  22. 22. Most of what we think we know about welfare is false... debate is dominated by powerful myths.
  23. 23. •The welfare state caused the current crisis •The welfare state benefits the poor •The welfare state taxes the rich •The welfare state encourages fraud & idleness •The welfare state must be centralised •The welfare state must be in control welfare myths
  24. 24. public expenditure has changed little
  25. 25. benefits are not technically public expenditure - they are a form of income adjustment
  26. 26. the poorest pay the highest levels of taxation
  27. 27. benefits fraud is dwarfed by fraud by taxpayers and by government itself
  28. 28. there are very few fit and healthy working age adults who just rely on benefits
  29. 29. the UK is the second most centralised welfare state in the world (after New Zealand)
  30. 30. we do not need to treat services as professionally defined gifts - we can have entitlements
  31. 31. Overheard at a public policy conference in London: “The welfare state exists for the benefit of the poor.” This statement was made, without irony, by a senior academic and made to a room full of public servants, politicians, think- tankers and others; all of whom are utterly dependent on the patronage of the welfare state. What other people get is a ‘hand out’, while what I receive is an entitlement. We are blind to the entitlements of others; but all too eager to expand our own sense of entitlement.
  32. 32. Perhaps welfare myths flourish for a purpose... to assure us of our own superiority.
  33. 33. The welfare state’s a good thing... it’s just designed wrong.
  34. 34. Without systems of collective security - welfare - human life descends into fear, terror, revolution and war.
  35. 35. 1. The first principle is that any proposals for the future, while they should use to the full the experience gathered in the past, should not be restricted by consideration of sectional interests established in the obtaining of that experience. Now, when the war is abolishing landmarks of every kind, is the opportunity for using experience in a clear field. A revolutionary moment in the world's history is a time for revolutions, not for patching.2. The second principle is that organisation of social insurance should be treated as one part only of a comprehensive policy of social progress. Social insurance fully developed may provide income security; it is an attack upon Want. But Want is one only of five giants on the road of reconstruction and in some ways the easiest to attack. The others are Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness.3. The third principle is that social security must be achieved by co-operation between the State and the individual. The State should offer security for service and contribution. The State in organising security should not stifle incentive, opportunity, responsibility; in establishing a national minimum, it should leave room and encouragement for voluntary action by each individual to provide more than that minimum for himself and his family. William Beveridge How might such martial language mislead us? the foundation of the welfare state
  36. 36. •Meritocracy - most people lack the capacity to make good decisions for themselves •Centralisation - power and control needs to be centralised •Standardisation - equity is more about procedural uniformity than about resources or opportunities •Individualisation - firms, communities, Churches friends and family will always be there, and so can be taken for granted faulty design assumptions
  37. 37. we developed a poverty net
  38. 38. We have little faith in the 'average sensual man', we do not believe that he can do more than describe his grievances, we do not think he can prescribe the remedies Beatrice Webb Collectivism has put all their eggs in one basket. I do not think that Mr Shaw believes, or that anybody, believes, that 12,000,000 men, say, carry the basket, or look after the basket, or have any real distributed control over the eggs in the basket. I believe that it is controlled from the centre by a few people. They may be quite right or quite necessary. A certain limit to that sort of control any sane man will recognise as necessary: it is not the same thing as the Commons controlling the means of production. It is a few oligarchs or a few officials who do in fact control all the means of production. G K Chesterton Fabian centralism defeated other perspectives
  39. 39. Pruitt Igoe Urban Housing Project: 1952-1968
  40. 40. • Elitism - power and control is concentrated in the hands of powerful private and public elites • Isolation - people are increasingly cut off from each other and the means to rich and meaningful lives • Poverty - differences in income are growing, freedom for leisure and personal development diminishing • Stigma - some of us are increasingly marked out as less worthy, less valuable or a threat to society • Despair - mental illness, hopelessness and a growing sense of spiritual emptiness have we created five new giants?
  41. 41. The aim of a Christian social order is the fullest possible development of individual personality in the widest and deepest possible fellowship. William Temple The [new 1834] Poor Law treated the claims of the poor, not as an integral part of the rights of the citizen, but as an alternative to them - as claims which could be met only if the claimants ceased to be citizens in any true sense of the world. T H Marshall this was not the aim of early designers
  42. 42. the goal should be citizenship
  43. 43. There are eight degrees of charity, one higher than the other. The highest degree, exceeded by none, is that of the person who assists a poor Jew by providing him with a gift or loan or by accepting him into a business partnership or by helping him find employment - in a word, by putting him where he can dispense with other people's aid. Maimonides and the means to citizenship, should be citizenship
  44. 44. Womencentre in Halifax
  45. 45. PFG in Doncaster
  46. 46. Talbot School in Sheffield
  47. 47. Cornerstone Cafe in Newcastle
  48. 48. True love is excess of justice, excess that goes farther than justice, but never destruction of justice, which must be and must remain the basic form of love. Benedict XVI It is axiomatic that Love should be the predominant Christian impulse, and that the primary form of love in social organisation is Justice. William Temple Christ does not call his benefactors loving or charitable. He calls them just. The Gospel makes no distinction between the love of our neighbour and justice. In the eyes of the Greeks also a respect for Zeus the suppliant was the first duty of justice. We have invented the distinction between justice and charity. It is easy to understand why. Simone Weil The Christian call for social justice is central to our faith and our role in the world
  49. 49. Its time for a new settlement
  50. 50. Elements of a reformed welfare system: Human rights and clear entitlements Diverse, accessible and vibrant communities More support for families Social innovation and dynamism cc Guaranteed minimums and increased equality Universal securities and fair taxes Increased choice and control for citizens Professional integrity and independence Ecological sustainability Constitutional reform Global justice
  51. 51. The Church may not have all the answers... but it can ask the right questions.
  52. 52. • Increasing parliamentary scrutiny - cf. WOW Campaign and demand for a Cumulative Impact Assessment. • Role of the Church in attacking myths and restoring truth to the debate. • Collaboration and exploration of social innovation and community partnerships. • Deeper conversations about welfare reform and the purpose of the welfare state. for more info: or contact:
  53. 53. Possible further reading: