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UK Welfare Reform 1996 to 2008 and beyond: A personalised and responsive welfare system?


  • Paul Gregg



The UK welfare system has undergone three very profound periods of reform of the post-war model laid down by Beveridge. The first was a move in the direction of (but never fully converged with) the Bismarkian model of a contributory social insurance model with time limited earnings related benefits with a low value means tested social assistance safety net. This occurred slowly through the 1960s and up to the mid-1970s. The second phase started in 1979 and involved a dramatic move to curtail the social insurance entitlements and end all earnings related benefits. The result was a residualist low value means tested social assistance model, which ended both the Beveridge model and completely reversed the drift toward a European Bismarkian approach. Finally from 1996 a new model has emerged based on an activational welfare model with greater emphasis on incentives, support services and conditionality. As a direction of travel from the previous regime(s) this represents an increase in the engagement and support functions, increases in the (disciplinary) required activity functions combined with increased financial support for children and pensioners and personalised support services. The emerging model is far from completion and the final make up of the system remains uncertain. However, it bears strong similarities with developments in New Zealand and to a degree Australia and Canada. Within Europe the model most closely resembles a less generous version of the welfare systems in Denmark or Holland, which are sometimes referred to as embodying Flex-security. This evolutionary process of reform had some antecedents prior to 1996 but has really come to the fore since that date. This paper discusses reform in depth from 1996 and looks at its current direction of evolutionary change.

Suggested Citation

  • Paul Gregg, 2008. "UK Welfare Reform 1996 to 2008 and beyond: A personalised and responsive welfare system?," The Centre for Market and Public Organisation 08/196, Department of Economics, University of Bristol, UK.
  • Handle: RePEc:bri:cmpowp:08/196

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Richard Disney & Carl Emmerson & Matthew Wakefield, 2008. "Pension Provision and Retirement Saving: Lessons from the United Kingdom," Canadian Public Policy, University of Toronto Press, vol. 34(s1), pages 155-176, November.
    2. Mike Brewer, 2000. "Comparing in-work benefits and financial work incentives for low-income families in the US and the UK," IFS Working Papers W00/16, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
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    Cited by:

    1. Francesconi, Marco & Rainer, Helmut & van der Klaauw, Wilbert, 2008. "Unintended Consequences of Welfare Reform: The Case of Divorced Parents," IZA Discussion Papers 3891, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    2. Paul Gregg & Claudia Vittori, 2008. "Exploring Shorrocks Mobility Indices Using European Data," The Centre for Market and Public Organisation 08/206, Department of Economics, University of Bristol, UK.

    More about this item


    welfare reform; tax credits; lone parents; disabled adults;

    JEL classification:

    • H21 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Efficiency; Optimal Taxation
    • J22 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Time Allocation and Labor Supply
    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth
    • I38 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Government Programs; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs

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