Our response to Labour’s announcements on universalism

Wednesday, 05 June 2013

We responded to this week’s announcement that a future Labour government would means test the winter fuel allowance and child benefit by arguing that it is those in poverty that will suffer most if benefits become more and more targeted.  We believe that the concept of universalism is essential to a good society. A small cut to a few pensioners’ benefits will save hardly anything and in doing so sells the principle of universalism at a bargain basement price. All the evidence proves that universal benefits underpin good quality benefits and services for all.  It will be those in poverty that will suffer if benefits become more and more targeted.  
You can listen to our chair Neal Lawson defending universalism on The World Tonight (20.17) at http://www.bbc.co.uk/i/b0211jzv/
Evidence shows that universal benefits are superior to targeted benefits because:

  • Targeted benefits create stigma, reduce take-up rates, causes enormous increases in administrative costs and eventually leads to less public support for services which in turn leads to significant decline in the quality of those services.
  • Universalism is incredibly efficient, more than 50 times as efficient in some cases on the basis of error and fraud alone without taking into account the cost of administration.
  • On almost all measures of social and economic success, international league tables are topped by societies with strong universal welfare states.
  • The best way to benefit low-income groups is to not target benefits at them but at the wider population.
  • Universal benefits promote gender equality and do not suffer from the inherent bias built into a system designed within a framework of assuming a male breadwinner model of welfare.
  • Universalism creates positive economic stability by mitigating the swings in the business cycle and creating greater economic independence among the population.

For more on the importance of universalism read our latest briefing Social Security For All

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