Social Policy Review 25: Analysis and debate in social policy, 2013, edited by Gaby Ramia, Kevin Farnsworth and Zöe Irving (eds)

Policy Press, 2013, xii + 324 pp, hbk, 1 44731 274 1, £70

As Gaby Ramia’s introduction to this twenty-fifth annual collection suggests, the choice of papers is evidence of an increasing internationalisation of the Social Policy Association (SPA). The contributions are from Germany, Denmark, the USA, South Korea, Australia, Israel, and the UK. The first part of the volume tackles some particular policy issues faced by the UK’s coalition government, chapters in the second part are papers delivered at the 2012 SPA conference, and the third part is on the theme ‘work, employment and insecurity’.

All of the chapters address important questions: Is it possible to reconcile policy designed to address fuel poverty with policy designed to address climate change? Does marketisation make the NHS less of a universal public service? Will marketisation of pensions, social care and housing for elderly people breed greater inequality? Does the ‘social cohesion’ agenda mean that we no longer notice racial disadvantage? Can social policy initiatives generate corporate interconnectedness and therefore corporate power? What kind of welfare states are Israel, China, Japan and South Korea developing? Does unemployment have personal or structural roots? Do current EU regulations sufficiently address the two-tier labour market? How do labour market activation policies affect social citizenship? Is subsidised childcare a route out of the unemployment and fertility traps? Can female employment make up for public spending cuts that hit low income families the hardest?

Two chapters will of particular interest to readers of this Newsletter. Jeroslow asks whether the US’s Earned Income Tax Credit is palliative or cure, and concludes that quality childcare, improved education and training, improved community services, and more family friendly employment practices are required if the next generation is to escape poverty and the US is not to become an even more unequal society. Equality of opportunity requires a bit more equality of outcomes if it is to work.

Even more relevant is Paul Spicker’s evaluation of Universal Credit. Because it is means-tested, and its administration is complex, it will go the way of all other means-tested benefits. It will adapt to the conditions in which it is applied and will become more complex; old rules will be recycled into the new benefit; and for those sections of the population for whom the benefit works least well the system will be separately managed, thus recreating yet another mosaic of benefits.

Even if Universal Credit fails spectacularly, it will lumber on. (p.19)

Sadly, Spicker does not suggest a solution. He could have done.