From Basic Income to Poor Law and Back Again – Part 2: Whither the Welfare State?

In the first part of this series, we followed the introduction and abolition of the first ‘Basic Income’ scheme, the Speenhamland system in the United Kingdom in the 19th century. When Britain industrialised, cash benefits were replaced by the ‘New Poor Law’ and the Dickensian workhouse. The conclusion drawn by social reformers was that to end poverty and financial insecurity, they would have to work on a broad front: from industrial regulation to universal suffrage and the construction of a welfare state (social security, education and community services). This strategy was very successful, but now there are concerns that it no longer works and can’t be sustained.

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From Basic Income to Poor Law and back

This four-part series explores the genesis of the idea of a ‘basic income’, how this evolved into a more broadly-based strategy for social improvement, the risks to job security and the welfare state, and the role of a basic income in overcoming them.

It featured recently in the Australian Tax Transfer Institute’s policy blog

Part 1 examines the surprising origins of basic income. Continue reading

Activation policies in the 1990s and 2000s: Denmark and the United Kingdom compared.

Dear readers,

I haven’t blogged for a while. My excuse is that I’m writing up my PhD thesis comparing the emergence of activation policies in four countries: Australia, United Kingdom, Denmark, and the Netherlands. As you can imagine, this is taking a while!

In case this is a topic that interests you, here’s a sample of my work: a paper I presented at the FISS conference in Sigtuna Sweden in 2014 comparing activation in the UK and Denmark:

The conclusion? These two pioneers of activation policy took the same ideas – structural unemployment, activation, and New Public Management, and implemented  them differently. They put the activation policy jigsaw together in different ways. Path dependency was at work here: the two countries had very different sets of labour market and social security institutions, and still do.




The ‘Qualification Program’: Norway’s answer to entrenched long term unemployment?

With an unemployment rate of 4.1%, Norway must be getting a few things right. In 2007 they did what few countries do: seriously invest in an employment program to reduce entrenched, long term unemployment.  The two-year ‘Qualification Program’ aims to overcome social barriers to work as well as low skills. Participants must undertake full time activities and caseloads are 1:18. In a new twist on work incentives, they receive higher income support than similar unemployed people. It’s not cheap, but 4 years after starting the program, long term unemployed people are 18% more likely to be employed.

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Who’s the most efficient of them all: income tax or GST?


The emerging narrative on tax reform in Australia goes like this:

  • Yes, the GST is regressive (as clearly shown by a recent ACOSS analysis)
  • But we rely more than most of our ‘competitors’ on income taxes
  • And this is harmful to incentives to work, save and invest
  • So, we should ‘change the tax mix’ by raising the GST in order to reduce personal income or company tax rates.

This blog answers the question: which are more economically efficient – personal income taxes or consumption taxes?

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The UK minimum wage and Universal Credit: more austerity or new foundations for economic security?

The following are my comments in response to a (good) debate on recent social policy changes in the UK on the website of their Social Policy Association. Social policy experts there are grappling with how to respond to the British Government’s budget which raised minimum wages and cut tax credits for low paid workers while continuing the roll-out of the new income support payment called Universal Credit. What are we to make of this ambitious re-shaping of income protection of low paid and jobless workers in the UK? There are lessons here for us in Australia and (as I argue) some lessons from Australian policy experience for the UK.
Here are the links for websites of the Australian Social Policy Association and British Social Policy Association. People with an interest in social policy ideas and debate should think about joining!

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