Welfare Dependency: who benefits?

Saturday 31 October, 1.30pm until 3.00pm, Café

The welfare state was once celebrated as a keystone of post-war Britain, but while the NHS and state education are still widely valued, state benefits are now accused of fostering a dependency culture that traps millions. With cuts in public spending looming as the recession bites, and yet more people likely to need state support, change seems inevitable. The government describes its Welfare Reform Bill as ‘the most radical reform of the welfare state for generations’, aimed at increasing personal responsibility and moving people off benefits and into work.

But is it only the long-term unemployed (and the so-called underclass) who are dependent on the state? Some argue the ideology of welfarism has taken a therapeutic turn, fostering a climate of government intervention into people’s private lives, especially around child-rearing, diet and so on. Others argue the state should attend much more to our psychological and emotional needs, particularly when times are hard. Should reform mean moving from the ‘safety net’ model to an more interventionist one, equipping people with the skills they need for work and life in the 21st century?

What is the role of the welfare state today, and can it (or indeed should it) meet our needs? Is an expansion of its role inevitable in a recession, or is it creeping into areas of our lives we would rather it left alone? Are we becoming more vulnerable and in need of support, or is expanding welfare incompatible with personal freedom and independence, and with the imperative to tighten our belts? No doubt some people are genuinely dependent, and through no fault of their own, with more unemployed likely in the near future. Does welfare reform necessarily mean less compassion? Should the focus be on cash for those who need it, or more intensive intervention to get people working?

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Dave Clements
adviser to local government; blogger, Guardian, Huffington Post; convenor, IoI Social Policy Forum.

Rowenna Davis
Labour councillor, Southwark; prospective parliamentary candidate for Southampton Itchen; author, Tangled Up in Blue

Andrew Haldenby
director, Reform; former head, political section, Conservative Research Department

Dr Marcus Roberts
director, policy and membership, DrugScope

Angus Kennedy
convenor, The Academy; author, Being Cultured: in defence of discrimination

Produced by
Dave Clements adviser to local government; blogger, Guardian, Huffington Post; convenor, IoI Social Policy Forum.
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