Editorial: The welfare state enters a new, and riskier, era

The political and public climate for benefits reform was unusually benevolent

Share

In a way, ministers might be annoyed that most of the running, in terms of hostility, has been made by the “bedroom tax”.

In another, though, they might be grateful. The Government’s apparent failure to anticipate the indignation felt by those essentially being fined for having a spare room, and the delight of those who sense  a chink in ministerial defences, has obscured the much bigger picture. After barely three years in office, the Coalition is introducing probably the most sweeping reforms since the foundation of the welfare state.

The Government is not drafting legislation; it is not steering it through Parliament; it is not putting out proposals for consultation. It has done all this. There were times when its competence, let alone its intentions, raised questions. The cack-handed way in which the then Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, went about his NHS reforms ultimately cost him his job. The very notion of testing invalidity benefit recipients for their capacity to work drew protests, in part because of the insensitivity with which it was tackled. Now, though, the preliminaries are over. The legislation and many of the measures themselves are coming into force.

The much-contested “bedroom tax” went into effect yesterday. So did new arrangements for council tax which will mean more people having to pay; swingeing restrictions on legal aid, and NHS reforms that will see prime responsibility for commissioning care pass to doctors. Next Monday, the new personal independence payment replaces disability living allowance. The benefit cap – limiting total household receipts from the state – comes in a week later in four London boroughs. Two weeks after that, one district of Greater Manchester  pioneers the centrepiece – Universal Credit.

Not all has gone according to plan. The work of NHS commissioning that was intended to be led by GPs has been extended to hospital doctors and managers. That may be a concession that ministers   – and the GPs and their patients – come to rue. There were supposed to be four districts implementing Universal Credit at the outset. That is down to one. An NHS emergency phone line, intended to take the heat off emergency ambulance calls, has been delayed. But the changes that are going ahead constitute a formidable list. And whether you like them, loathe them, or are waiting to see, ministers deserve some credit. It has taken almost every government in recent memory at least twice as long to accomplish nothing like as much. The sheer size of the task, and the risk of protest, discouraged any serious effort to grapple with welfare. 

How these measures will be judged, however, depends not on what has already happened, but on what happens next. The Coalition was – crucially – able to capitalise on a widespread public sense that benefits of all kinds had become a disincentive to work. A little of the shine was also taken off the NHS in recent months by the report on Stafford Hospital. The climate for reform was unusually benevolent.

The generally quiescent public mood, however, could soon turn. If, for instance, it emerges  that figures produced by the Government – showing that more than 800,000 people gave up claims for disability benefit – were massaged, or that genuinely disabled people were too scared to claim; if the benefits cap results in already deprived families becoming homeless; if government computers cannot cope with the single pilot of Universal Credit; if GPs are attacked by angry patients for rationing care, then not only will the whole Government be in the dock – Mr Cameron personally underwrote both the benefit and NHS reforms – but any reform of the welfare state, however justified, will be twice as hard next time around.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Estimating, preparation of tech...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will work as part of a smal...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron has reiterated his pre-election promise to radically improve the NHS  

How can we save the NHS? Rediscover the stiff upper lip

Jeremy Laurance
 

Thanks to Harriet Harman, Labour is holding its own against the Tory legislative assault

Isabel Hardman
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada