Expert Welfare Reform Group

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The Scottish Government has set up an Expert Welfare Reform Group to look at how welfare could be costed in an independent Scotland.

This cannot and should not be done without some thought being given to what kind of welfare we want to see in an independent Scotland.

I welcome the Scottish Government’s policy linkage between health and well-being; and would advocate that an independent Scotland should link both of these to welfare, as well.

In terms of welfare provision, an independent Scotland should also take into consideration the recommendations of its Christie Report on Public Service Reform and its recent Finance Committee’s Report on Preventative Spending.  Both of these reports included the economic and social advantages of promoting and supporting measures of prevention and independent living for disabled people. [i]

It is also important to note that that there are several studies from as far back as the1960’s showing the fallacy of a society not valuing its welfare systems and those who are supported by it, for society at large, and everyone within it, will lose out in the end.[ii]

In the past the UK Governments, of whatever colour,  have shown their scant regard of the value of welfare provision and those in need of it; and have tried to get welfare on the cheap.  But as with buying anything on the cheap, cheapness costs

Cheap welfare costs the recipient their health and wellbeing; it costs family stress and break-ups; it costs ineffective education due to poor student motivation and participation; it costs uninhabitable housing and ugly environments due to lack of repair and maintenance; it costs crime to increase; and so it costs the tax-payer – the original provider of welfare – much more to try to put all these concomitant factors right

Research on well-being reveals the significance of personal relationships, trust and participation to sustain quality of life. Yet it is the 18th century utilitarian, or economic, model of paying welfare recipients “less than the lowest peasant in the field” that remains the dominant basis for welfare today. [iii]

In his book “Welfare and Well-being”, Professor Bill Jordan of Plymouth and Huddersfield Universities, presents an analysis of well-being in terms of social value.  He outlines ways in which social value could be incorporated into public policy decisions.  He also argues that it is ‘culture’ and personal relations, rather than ‘contract and consumption’, which are the keys to better quality of life and true well-being.

In addition, Professor William Talbott of Washington University argues, in his book “Human Rights and Human Well-being”, that securing human rights would lead to improved human well-being.  Within the UK welfare has been based on the assessment of ‘need’.   Such assessments have been done by ‘gate-keepers’ of those resources which could be used to meet such ‘needs’  However, being primarily ‘gate-keepers’ those  needs are not always assessed and/or met properly.  For those, mainly Scandinavian, countries which base welfare on human rights, and restrict wide variation between the ‘rich’ and the ‘poor’, a greater sense of well-being is felt throughout the population.  This has been validated by the epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Picket, in their seminal work, “The spirit level”.

Today, the argument should not be around ‘the safety net’ of welfare, but how welfare can empower people to be good, participative citizens in an equal and progressive society.   The former Emeritus Professor of Disability Studies at Greenwich University, Mike Oliver advanced the concept of emancipatory services. [iv] These services are designed to develop disabled people as full and equal citizens, actively participating not just in the economic sector of society, to which the present welfare system is solely geared, but to its civil and social sectors as well. Emancipatory services are based on four principles: self-assessment, self-management, participation and citizenship.[v]

As was indicated above, a Scottish ‘welfare system’ would benefit from a holistic approach to ‘welfare policy’, i.e. if welfare, health, social care, housing, well-being, etc., were seen as connected and inter-related within the economic, civic, cultural and social policies of Scotland, Scottish society and the quality of life within it, would benefit.

A more holistic view of welfare would enable a wider range of ‘outcomes’ to be associated with its provision.  To explain, at present the welfare system is geared to one outcome – placement within the labour market.  But as feminine sociologists, like Selma Sevenhuijsen, Professor of Women’s Studies at Utrecht University, and others[vi] have argued over the value to society of the informal ‘caring role’ women play in society and how that should be recognised as part of ‘citizenship’, so society should value other roles disabled people might play in the civic, cultural and social life of society.  It has to be acknowledged, though, that economic self-sufficiency would still be the ultimate goal; but the welfare system could provide incentives to volunteer or participate in other activities outside the labour market, as possible stepping stones, or even as a permanent alternative (if assessed as such) to employment.

Finally, it should be argued that up until now, the welfare system has only attended to the supply needs of the labour market.  Apart from the “Access to work” budget, which could still be argued relates mainly to the supply needs of the market, and anti-discrimination legislation, which is rarely enforced, there has been little done too alter the demand side of the labour market.

Even from government statistics, it is plain to see the  need to open up  the demand side of the market.  Of those Atos have ‘re-assessed’ as being ‘fit-for-work’, only 2.9% have actually gained work.  As the recent BBC documentary has shown, the vast majority, who are really hard to place, have been ‘parked’ as they are seen as “lazy, thieving b*****ds”.  This allows private companies, like Triage to make a quicker buck on the 2.9% who are the easiest to place.[ia]

If the welfare system were to be placed within a more holistic structure of policy developments, then action could be taken to ‘open up’ the market to those on welfare who could only meet part of a job description, or who could only work a few hours a day, rather than a few days a week. Support for such an approach comes from the work of Shigehiro Oishio, Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia.  He states:

“Fully functioning individuals are …. those who have loving relationships and contribute to society via work, family, volunteer work, and political engagement”[vii]

As with civic participation above, such activity might be seen as a stepping stone to fuller employment, or it could be seen as a permanent arrangement between the employer and the welfare system with each paying their share of the person’s income.

However, the employer may also need to be incentivised in some way, through subsidy, contracts or reduction in taxation. Nevertheless, the principle should be considered – to open up both society at large and the labour market in particular to the active participation of disabled people therein.  Again, as Bill Jordan advocates:

“The evidence of stalled well-being seems to me to strengthen the case for this (tax-benefit) reform.  An ethic of care and a citizenship of active engagement would be far easier to promote if all paid work and unpaid work received the same treatment from the tax-benefit authorities.  Indeed, a policy for increasing well-being, rather than income and employment, would be impossible without this measure.”[viii]


[i]  Independent Living means:

‘… disabled people of all ages having the same freedom, choice, dignity and control as other citizens at home, at work, and in the community. It does not mean living by yourself or fending for yourself. It means rights to practical assistance and support to participate in society and live an ordinary life.’

For disabled people to live their life in the way they choose, they must have rights to:

  • inclusive education and training
  • equal opportunities for employment
  • full access to our environment
  • fully accessible public transport
  • technical aids and equipment
  • accessible and adapted housing
  • an income including income from benefits
  • accessible and readily available information
  • advocacy and working towards self-advocacy
  • counseling, including peer counseling
  • accessible and inclusive healthcare provision
  • communication and appropriate support for communication
  • personal assistance

[ii] See Alcock P et al (2001) “Welfare and wellbeing: Richard Titmuss’s contribution to social policy” Policy Press Scholarship  online http://policypress.universitypressscholarship.com/view/10.1332/policypress/9781861342997.001.0001/upso-9781861342997-chapter-11 (accessed 06/03/2013) and Titmuss, R(1968)”Welfare state and welfare society” in “Commitment to welfare”  Allan  and Unwin

[iii] Bentham, J (1781) “An introduction to the principles of moral legislation” http://www.utilitarianism.com/jeremy-bentham/index.html (accessed 06/03/2013)

[iv] Oliver, M (1994) “Move on: From welfare paternalism to welfare citizenship” Social Action, vol 2, no. 1

[v] For a fuller discussion about emancipatory services, see Elder-Woodward, J (2002) “Social Work and disabled people: from crafting clients to sustaining citizens” http://disability-studies.leeds.ac.uk/files/library/elderwood-SWDP-Paper.pdf (accessed 06/03/2013)

[vi] See for example, Sevenhuijsen S (1998) “Citizenship and the ethics of care: feminist considerations on justice, morality and politics” Routledge, London.  Barnes, M (2006) “Caring  and social justice”, Palgrave, New York; and Held, V (1995) “Justice  and care; essential readings in feminist ethics”, Westview Press, Oxford

[vii] Oishi, S, Diener E and Lucas R E (2009) “The Optimum level of well-being: can people be too happy?” in Diener, E “The science of well-being: the collective Works of Ed Diener” London, Springer p192

[viii] Jordan, B (2007) “Social work and well-being”, Dorset, Russell House Publishing, p137

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About jimelderwoodward

Disabled people's rights activist living in Scotland, promoting the principles and practices of independent living, the outcome of which is participative parity as equal citizens in all areas of community life - economic, civic, social and cultural
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