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
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour's Jeremy Corbyn arrives to take part in a Labour party leadership final debate, at the Sage in Gateshead, England, Thursday, Sept. 3  

Jeremy Corbyn is here to stay and the Labour Party is never going to look the same again

Andrew Grice
Serena Williams  

As Stella Creasy and Serena Williams know, a woman's achievements are still judged on appearance

Holly Baxter
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones