Reducing poverty the Joseph Rowntree or Jimmy Reid way?

From BBC Scotland today;

Humza Yousaf has said future Scottish government spending plans will be targeted at those most in need.

The first minister revealed he has asked his cabinet to review all future commitments to ensure they are effectively aimed at reducing poverty.

Mr Yousaf said previous universal policy commitments, such as rolling out free school meals to all primary age children, would stand.

However he warned “tough choices” would be made about existing budgets.

The first minister said he wanted to explore “whether targeting help is the way forward when money is so tight”.

The comments came after a summit about tackling poverty in Edinburgh involving politicians and charities.

Polling commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggests the majority of Scots are cutting back on essentials, with the poorest the most affected.

I get it – stretched budgets and the apparent logic of not giving benefits to those who do not need them.

I note also that the FM recognises that it’s not a simple matter:

Mr Yousaf told BBC Scotland that universal policies, such as abolishing prescription charges, were “not necessarily in conflict” with spending being more targeted in the future.

Mention, above, of one JRF (Joseph Rowntree Foundation) reminds me of another, the Jimmy Reid Foundation.

In 2012, I read and was much impressed by their The Case for Universalism An assessment of the evidence on the effectiveness and efficiency of the universal welfare state which made these telling comments, we’d do well to keep in mind:

•Moving from universalism to selectivity increases social and economic inequality and diminishes rather than enhances the status of the poor

•Selectivity requires process and procedures that separate benefit recipients from the rest of society, increasing stigmatisation and reducing take-up

•Universalism is incredibly efficient – the selective element of pension entitlement is more than 50 times more inefficient than the universal element measured in terms of fraud and error alone and without even taking into account the cost of administration.

•In economic terms universalism is clearly shown to deliver Merit Goods (things we all benefit from) and Public Goods (things that could not be delivered without collective provision) which selectivity simply cannot deliver.

•The economic impact of universalism is much greater than the economic impact of selectivity because of the multiplier profile of expenditure

•Universalism also creates positive economic stability by mitigating the swings in the business cycle and creating much more economic independence among the population

•On virtually every possible measure of social and economic success, all league tables are topped by societies with strong universal welfare statesPage 2

•Universalism creates a higher and more progressive tax base which also improves economic stability, reduces price bubbles and creates more efficient flatter income distributions

•Universal benefits promote gender equality and do not suffer form the inherent bias built into a system designed within a framework of assuming a male breadwinner model of welfare

•There is a ‘paradox of redistribution’ which creates the rather counter-intuitive result that systems where benefits are not targeted towards low-income groups are the ones that most benefit low-income groups

•It is impossible to disentangle redistributive tax and universalism – if universalism is reduced, redistributive taxation is reduced and visa versa

•Where social services are ‘rationed’ for those on lowest incomes the quality of the services decline without ‘majority buy-in’ for those services

•Selectivity is not a form of universalism but the rejection of universalism. Selectivity is a cost-driven judgement, universalism a function-driven judgement

•Selectivity and universalism are elements of two entirely different political philosophies – universalism inextricably linked to the European Social Model, selectivity inextricably linked to US neoliberalism

•Wherever we find a move from universalism to selectivity we find privatisation and corporate profiteering, often at the expense of those least able to bear the impact

•If all of the available data is pulled together and the conclusions drawn, the historical and contemporary evidence strongly suggests that the appropriate response to austerity is to increase universal provision and so stimulate economic activity, equalise damaging wealth disparity and improve both government and wider economic efficiency


3 thoughts on “Reducing poverty the Joseph Rowntree or Jimmy Reid way?

  1. Of course universal entitlement is the best way forward. But, in the current context there is pressure to be selective. We need to have greater control of Scotland’s budget and we also need to look at using other taxes to raise funds to be redistributive in an universalist way.

    Remember the hapless Johan Lamont in complete ignorance of the principles of the welfare state, Labour history and the iniquities of means testing criticising benefits as ‘the something for nothing society’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ‘we also need to look at using other taxes to raise funds to be redistributive’.

      I agree: that is what a normal independent nation-state would and could do. But this is showing up starkly the limitations of the devolved settlement: we know the present constitutional arrangement gives the Scottish Parliament and Government very little room for manoeuvre here.

      The range of fiscal powers is extremely limited and – by Westminster’s design – the powers are largely ones directly to tax just the earnings of individuals and households i.e. the majority of voters. And regarding taxing of individuals, even the powers to tax wages/salaries are severely restricted plus with no ability to tax investment income or inherited wealth.

      So the present Scottish Government’s running of the country is impacted by the fiscal arrangements set by devolution.

      The fiscal arrangements set by devolution are impacting the present Scottish Government’s ability to pursue its preferred social policies, including policies that have got it elected in successive Holyrood elections.

      One way or another it comes down to ‘Scotland’s future/England’s choice’!

      Liked by 5 people

  2. What we need is complete control over all of our decisions. Until then , I will brook no criticism of the present Scottish Government’s policies. Maybe somewhat dogmatic, but when we have the Government of a foreign country now openly stealing our resources , and gradually emasculating our Parliament, it’s long past the time to be an Independent nation once again.
    How to make that happen? I have no idea, but playing by their rules, and being nice to them, ain’t going to cut it. They, Westminster, are crooks, and like all of that ilk will take, and squander, our wealth, as long as we let them.

    Liked by 1 person

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