Although current welfare reform in the UK looks progressive compared to the 1940s, I would argue that we are moving backwards rather than forwards. Many of the ideologies currently espoused echo the ideologies from the sixteenth century and the Victorian era. During the Victorian era, workhouses were introduced to discourage the use of welfare benefits as a way of life. Entering the workhouse was seen as a last resort. (Fraser,2003) The cornerstone of the institution was that doing any paid work was better than entering the workhouse.

I would argue that abolishing the workhouses and introducing comprehensive benefits has encouraged generations of dependent people who would rather choose a relatively good life on benefits, than working for a pittance.

However, there is a lot of discrepancy between how the benefits system affects different groups in society: a single person trying to cope on approximately £60 a week JSA will struggle more than a family with several children living in a big rent-free house with a total benefit income of over £30,000 a year. (Daily Mail,2010) I would argue that this family may never achieve this level of finance through low-paid work, and that by returning to work, the family may see a drop in their standard of living. They are caught in the benefit trap.

The welfare state currently makes it harder to return to work due to its comprehensive and often complicated system of ‘passported’ benefits. I believe it is a good thing that the UK has begun to replace this wide variety of benefits with an ever-decreasing range that are monitored and sanctioned where necessary.

I believe that, although we have a nation of people who have had different expectations for generations, the idea of promoting the dignity and responsibility of the individual for their own welfare, and the reduction of state help is a change that is necessary, where necessary.

However, I am concerned that disabled and vulnerable people are being held responsible for the actions of more able and 'idle' claimants. The quality of their lives is set to deteriorate through the reforms.

I am concerned that people who are too sick or unable to sustain functional employment will be forced into a situation that could make their conditions deteriorate further. The idea that the state could effectively accuse them of fabricating the extent of their conditions by moving them off sickness benefits or reducing the level of their benefits may have a devastating effect on the mental, physical and emotional well-being of those affected. In setting absolute targets of a 20% reduction in claimants/disability budget the government has failed completely to honour their commitments to those who truly need the state to support them.

Furthermore, by putting their homes and family life at risk, the government is set to create an even bigger divide between those who can and those who simply cannot work.

The Coalition Government's current plans undermine the very same dignity they purport to encourage in those whose self-esteem and place in society is often low. The very real threat that many disabled people may commit suicide as a direct result of these changes should not be disregarded as hyperbole; the people who push through the changes without due care and attention would, in my view, be guilty of the manslaughter of everyone who feels forced into this position.

Although I agree with welfare reform, I would therefore argue that in its current form the WRB11 makes a mockery of the pledge "to protect the poorest and most vulnerable in society". It is nothing more than political spin and the Government should be ashamed of themselves. 


    I have just finished a Certificate in Higher Education in Social Policy and the Care Sector. 

    My final module was a 7000 word thesis on welfare reform and the upcoming changes proposed by the Coalition Government. This blog contains that Project.

    Please note: the material is copyrighted and must not be reproduced in full or in part without permission; except for academic purposes where it must be cited as follows:

    Gourlay, Kirstein, 2011, UK Welfare Reform in the 21st century: The Consequences for the Vulnerable in Society, Birkbeck University:London


    August 2011