The opportunities of a lifetime: Model lifetime analysis of current British social policy, by Martin Evans and Jill Eyre

The Policy Press, Bristol, 2004, 91pp, pbk, 1 86134 651 4, £16.95 Order this book

This highly informative and innovative report brings together ‘the whole system of taxes, benefits and related policy instruments that affect our education, work, retirement and family life’ and ‘our lifetimes, to reflect on both now, the next few years and the longer future potential of social security to assist with our education during our working lives, when we have children, and our retirement’ (p.3). The researchers simulate the effect of everyone living their whole lives under the current system The aim is to ‘stand above the short-term political cycle and show the consequences of current policy assumptions and approaches’ (p.3). A variety of model lifetimes are chosen: a single person on average earnings; a single person on low pay; a couple with children on average earnings, and a similar couple on low earnings; and people who experience unemployment, disability, and lone parenthood. The ways in which income varies over the lifecyle are described, and policy recommendations are made – in particular that the ‘lifetime’ perspective needs to be taken into policy design, that lifetime incentives matter (so, for instance, it matters that the extent of high marginal tax rates has increased), and that low lifetime gains mean that current opportunities might not be grasped (for instance, training, seeking employment, and pension provision).

This important report should be on the reading list of everyone involved in social policy development.