The UK has experienced a decade of austerity. While this has not resulted in a dramatic decrease in public spending in absolute terms, it does represent the longest pause in real-terms spending growth on record. Moreover, with the UK’s population continuing to grow, spending per head has fallen, and is set to be 3.9 per cent lower in real terms by 2021/22 than it was in 2010/11. Likewise, as a share of GDP, spending has fallen from 47 per cent to 40 per cent.
This reduction in spending on social security has occurred at the same time as fundamental reform to how working age benefits operate in the UK, with the introduction of universal credit, which aimed to encourage more people into work and simplify the system, thereby reducing fraud, error, confusion and administration costs.
However, it is far from clear that this has been the result. Moreover, across a whole host of other metrics, social indicators show that our welfare system is failing to deliver as we would expect it to. Having declined significantly during the first decade of the century, poverty is now growing again, particularly amongst pensioners, children and those in-work.
This paper will argue that it is time to embrace a more progressive vision of social security in the 21st Century. Fundamentally, it would recognise that, in the world’s fifth richest country, a basic minimum standard of living should be a foundation for citizenship. This idea must sit at the heart of the social security system.