Thatcherism, New Labour and the Welfare State, by John Hills

This paper examines the extent to which the welfare state policies pursued by the Labour Government in its first fifteen months represent a break with those of its Conservative predecessor and with earlier policies put forward by Labour in opposition. Four linking themes are identified: the desire by Labour to shed its ‘tax and spend’ image leading to tight budget constraints;
the strong focus on the promotion of paid work; measures intended to reduce inequality and relative poverty, but with controversy over benefit levels; and the new dominance of the Treasury in making welfare and social policy. Hills reminds us that some of the policies are a clear reversal of the Conservatives’ approach, but in others the Government is continuing an evolution which was already underway, despite the earlier Labour rhetoric about ‘thinking the unthinkable’ on welfare reform. One notable example is the lack of Government action on strengthening the National Insurance system, despite the strong arguments of Frank Field (former Minister for Welfare Reform) in favour of social insurance based systems. Hills concludes that rather than “thinking the unthinkable”, the policies that have emerged, “like the Titanic, but with a lisp” are “all too easily thinkable.” This excellent and concise assessment of policy developments is available, free of charge, from the Centre for the Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE) Office, London School of Economics, Houghton Street, LONDON WC2A 2AE Tel 0171 955 6679 Web site: