Reframing Social Citizenship, by Peter Taylor-Gooby

Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2009, xii + 218 pp, hbk, 0 19 954670 1, £45

Today’s welfare state is characterised by ‘competition, the expansion of internal markets, and target-setting’ and for the ‘customer’ by ‘choice, opportunity, activation, and individual engagement’ (p.v). Underlying these trends is a conceptual framework which understands the citizen as an individual rational maximiser. The message of the book is simple: social citizenship and the welfare state rely on a conceptual framework characterised by reciprocity, inclusion and trust: characteristics at the opposite ends of spectra from the competition and rational choice which characterise today’s welfare provision. If current trends continue then we might find ourselves discarding the social citizenship on which any welfare state must depend.

The first chapter defines ‘social citizenship’ as the ‘rights and duties associated with the provision of benefits and services designed to meet social needs and enhance capabilities, and also to guarantee the resources necessary to finance them’ (pp.4,5) and discusses redistribution both vertically (between members of a society) and horizontally (across the individual’s lifecycle) as the practical basis for reciprocity and inclusion. The chapter also discusses uncertainty as the problem which the welfare state addresses, and trust in the welfare system as essential to the contract between citizen and government. The author lists challenges facing the welfare state: technological change in industry, the rise of the service sector, a loss of working class cohesion, an ageing population, changes in family structure, the changing role of women in society and employment, and, in chapter 2, globalization, which results in increased competition in goods and services, more flexible labour markets, growing inequality, growing downward pressures on tax revenues, and mobile populations, capital and revenue. Government response in the UK, as well as in Europe more generally, is to promote a ‘transition to a new more individualized welfare state citizenship’ (p.31) and in particular an active casework approach to unemployment benefits.

Subsequent chapters ask how rational individual choice can be integrated with social norms and institutions and how the emerging new configuration will affect social citizenship. The author finds that reciprocity is valued as much by the new ‘active citizen’ as it was in the previous ‘passive benefits’ phase of the welfare state, but that ‘the rational actor welfare state will struggle to secure trust and inclusion’ (p.106) and that this will make sustaining the welfare state problematic.

The next three chapters take the UK’s National Health Service as a detailed case study and asks how new policies have impacted on social citizenship: ‘The reform programme has been most successful in areas which correspond to the needs of the mass of the population, the broad field of reciprocity. It is less impressive in relation to the more intractable issues of inequality and inclusion’ (p.159).

The final chapters regret that the new welfare state configuration is strong on a rather defensive reciprocity amongst the better off and that it is weak on inclusion and thus does little to tackle inequality. The author finally suggests that ‘sustaining the values that underlie [the welfare state] requires political determination to enhance competitiveness by reducing the privileges of advantaged groups and extending the inclusion of the weakest and to rebuild public trust by extending democratic engagement in social provision’ (p.190).

This is an important book which should be on every government minister’s desk. Theory and case study are well integrated, and the conclusions arise naturally from the evidence. It is a bit of a surprise that there is no mention of such counterexamples to the current rational choice trend as Child Benefit. This universal benefit relies on and promotes the values of trust, inclusion and reciprocity, and for low income groups it acts as a foundation on the basis of which rational choices can be made. It’s the one benefit which doesn’t change when a lone parent takes the often difficult decision to enter the employment market.

A Citizen’s Income would, of course, have the same effect. It would enhance trust, inclusion and reciprocity and at the same time encourage the active citizenship which a globalised and ageing society requires. It would be interesting to see a further such case study from Peter Taylor-Gooby