Male culture of social welfare 'must be feminised'

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The Independent Online
THE MALE domination of Beveridge's social welfare system would be broken down by the Government's reforms, Frank Field said last night.

The minister for welfare reform said in a Commons debate on the uprating in social security benefits that the "dead hand of the past" was guiding too much of what was being spent- with more than 60 per cent of the near- pounds 100bn budget set by legislation passed before 1948.

But in a later lecture, Mr Field also contrasted the Beveridge legacy with the requirements of the modern world - which would no longer accept a system of fixed, flat-rate benefits, paid out to "passive" claimants. He also criticised the outdated male culture of Beveridge, saying: "Male workers are about to be outnumbered by female workers in Britain. Of course, many women workers work part-time so they are able to combine parenting and paid work. Yet the existence of what will shortly be the majority group of the working population has still to be adequately recognised in our social security system. Beveridge designed a male social-insurance system. The world has changed. So, too, must welfare.

"Taking women seriously as workers is one necessary direction of welfare reform ... One strain of the reform process is not whether, but how this male social-security system can be feminised. The existence of nearly half the working population now being composed of women has major implications for welfare reform, whether the route being advocated is one of means- testing, or of social insurance, or of a pay-as-you-go extension of funded provision."

A government source told The Independent that ministers were thinking particularly of bolstering the efforts of working women to build up their own pensions, but further help for childcare would also be considered under the guiding principles of the consultative Green Paper on welfare reform, due to be published soon.

In a report from the Commons Social Security Committee yesterday - on the lessons that might be learned from the United States - MPs said that one of the ways work was made more attractive in Wisconsin was by giving help to people moving off welfare with the costs of childcare and transport. Among the "key themes" from the Wisconsin experiment, which the committee said should be addressed, was a "change from a passive income maintenance system to pro-active welfare to work strategy".

Mr Field said in his lecture that in 1948, two-thirds of welfare claimants had been over retirement age; today, two-thirds were of working age. He said, a fundamentally different service was now required. "Benefit payments are required, of course, but governments now have an equal duty to provide what we are calling an active modern service to help claimants renegotiate to move back into work, whenever that is possible.