Understanding the Finance of Welfare, & Understanding Social Security

Jane Millar (ed.), Understanding Social Security, 2nd edition, Policy Press, 2009, xxii + 322 pp, pbk, 1 847 421869, £21.99, hbk 1 847 421876, £65

Howard Glennerster, Understanding the Finance of Welfare, 2nd edition, Policy Press, 2009, xvii + 245 pp, pbk, 1 847 421081, £21.99, hbk 1 847 421098, £65

Both of these are text books in the Policy Press’s Understanding Welfare series.

The first is an edited collection, with different authors tackling a variety of aspects of the benefits system: foundation and contexts, lifecourse and labour markets, and users and providers. This is a ‘second edition’, but not every chapter has been brought as thoroughly up to date as it might have been. For instance: chapter 2, on ‘social security: reforms and challenges’, discusses the Fowler reviews of the mid-’80s and the Commission on Social Justice of 1994 but fails to mention the Pensions Commission which reported in 2005 and 2006 or the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s report Benefits Simplification of 2007, both of which are arguably as significant in policy terms. (The Commission gets a mention later in the book).

In her chapter ‘From cradle to grave’ Karen Rowlingson discusses a Citizen’s income as a possible future reform and perhaps accidentally expresses an important inconsistency which too frequently characterises debate of this option: ‘There would be no direct disincentive to work and/or save, as individuals would keep the basic income even if they earned or saved large sums of money. However, it is argued that if basic income payments were set at a level to cover people’s needs there might be no incentive for people to work at all’ (p.145). Again, in relation to options for the future, it’s a pity that neither the Pensions Commission’s recommendation of a Citizen’s Pension nor the Pension Policy Institute’s detailed research on this option gets a mention.

We hope to see a third edition of this excellent resource in which a series of options for reform get chapters of their own, so that future policy makers can think through the feasibility and desirability of different ways of reforming the tax and benefits system.

In the second of the books under review, a single author discusses the wide variety of ways in which different social provisions are funded. For instance, the chapter on income security discusses private insurance, the cost of income maintenance, particular fiscal instruments (and particularly tax credits and tax allowances), work and savings incentives, the funding of pensions, and the state’s role in income replacement and poverty relief. In relation to the funding of pensions, New Zealand’s universal pension is discussed.

Both of these books are well written, comprehensive and attractive text books which will provide students of social policy with a good grounding in the UK’s social security system and in the financing of that system and of other social provision. They are essential reading not only for students who might in the future make social policy but also for those who make policy today.