Fenger, Hudson and Needham, Social Policy Review 28

Menno Fenger, John Hudson and Catherine Needham, Social Policy Review 28: Analysis and debate in social policy, 2016, Policy Press in association with the Social Policy Association, 2016, ix + 277 pp, hbk, 1 4473 3179 6, £60

This annual publication has three purposes: to survey the current social policy scene; to bring some of the papers given at the Social Policy Association’s annual conference to a wider audience; and to tackle in depth one particular social policy trend, in this case individualised budgets.

In the first section: Gordon Clark shows that pensions policy, which assumes that individuals are increasingly responsible for managing their pensions, flies in the face of evidence that we make decisions that are not in our best interests. He suggests that a new paternalism is required. Martin Powell shows how marketization is no longer regarded by government as the only solution to the problems faced by the NHS, and that localisation, integration, and the prevention of ill health, are now also policy trends. Mark Stephens and Adam Stephenson show how housing policy is redistributing rights away from low income families in rented accommodation and towards owner occupiers. Peter Dwyer charts the trend towards conditionality and sanctions in relation to housing provision, social security benefits, and the behaviour of ‘troubled families’. This chapter will be of particular interest to our readers, especially if read alongside a recent report on the effects of reducing benefit levels:

Conventional wisdom suggests that taking money off benefit claimants (e.g. by sanctions or cutting benefit rates) acts as a financial incentive to get a job. Our analysis says that the opposite is in fact true, at least for this project cohort. Higher benefit losses may correlate with higher rent and larger families, and financial hardship; as childcare and debt are established barriers to work, it is perhaps unsurprising that customers with higher benefit losses are less rather than more likely to get into or back into work. [1]

– and alongside discussion of the lack of evidence that the expensive ‘troubled families’ initiative has had any significant effects. [2] Dwyer’s chapter ends with an entirely appropriate mention of T.H. Marshall’s preference for unconditional and decommodified social rights granted on the basis of citizenship (p. 53).

The second part of the book contains papers from the 2015 Social Policy Association conference. Robert Page charts the Conservative Party’s journey into ‘social justice’ territory, and wonders whether the welfare state will survive further Conservative governments; Ruth Patrick interviews out of work benefits claimants and finds them to be broadly supportive of government benefits policy; Stephen Crossley shows how the Government’s ‘troubled families’ initiative has been subverted by local authorities; and Hannah Jobling finds that Community Treatment Orders (which replaced Anti-Social Behaviour Orders) produced a far more diverse set of effects than was ever intended.

In the third section of the book, on individualised budgets, Christiane Purcal et al study a National Disability Insurance Scheme in Australia; Philip Brown finds that the outcomes for rough sleepers offered personal budgets in Wales depended on the quality of the support workers; Karen Jones studies a pilot project that trialled personal budgets for adult social care in the UK, and finds positive outcomes; Karen Christensen discusses client involvement in social care in Norway; and Locke and West explore individualised budgets for older people in the UK.

As we read this informative survey of contemporary social policy debate, a potentially significant consensus emerges: that centrally managed unconditional provision for universal needs has significant advantages over individualised approaches; and that where each individual’s needs are unique, as, for instance, in relation to disability, a cash-based and individualised approach is required. This suggests that a Citizen’s Income alongside locally managed personal budgets for social care and other particular needs ought to be the social security structure for the future.



[1] Oxford City Council, Welfare Reform Team, Evaluation of European Social Fund Pilot Project 2014-2015, p. 51.

[2] http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/expansion-without-evaluation-the-troubled-families-programme-is-fast-policy-in-action/