The welfare state: no longer an adequate safety net

The welfare state no longer provides a safety net for the most vulnerable in society; unemployed people are facing a 'job trap' - stuck in a cycle of low-paid, precarious work and life on benefits; and local government cuts have all but killed the government's vision of a 'Big Society'.

These are just some of the key findings from the recently published 'Surviving Austerity' report by the new economics foundation (nef), an independent think tank for economic well-being.

The report, the result of two years of research, looked into how people in two of the most economically deprived parts of Birmingham and Haringey, North London, were coping in the face of sustained public spending cuts, welfare reform and an ongoing recession.

Through peer research, photojournalism, interviews and workshops with local residents, community organisations and local authority officers, nef discovered that the social and human costs of these reforms was shocking and worryingly there is only worse to come.

The report focused on how people were experiencing welfare reform and public sector cuts, what Big Society meant for local residents and what could be done at local level to promote social justice and improve people's well-being.

The resulting report found that the welfare state no longer provides an adequate safety net and with unemployment rising, in-work poverty overtaking out-of-work poverty for the first time, many more people are struggling just to meet their basic needs.

Despite these findings, nef also looked at how people can use local assets and resources to try to tackle these problems. The result is five themes nef believes will help guide socially just local action. These are:

  • Promote fairness - Embed the principles of fairness in all decisions that a local authority takes, and use resources to reduce poverty and inequality
  • Commission for social, economic, and environmental value - commissioning decisions should be made based on the value in terms of long term social, environmental and economic outcomes, not cost.
  • Make co-production a standard way of getting things done - Co-production is a way of sharing power, strengthening relationships, and making the most of our collective resources.
  • Make well-being for all the primary goal of all public services: When budgets are being cut, it is vital to make carefully considered, evidence-based decisions that are directed at improving well-being for all.
  • Develop sustainable local economies: Local authorities should invest public resources to transform local economies, so that they promote well-being for all and environmental sustainability.

The full report can be downloaded from the nef website at

Last Updated : 28 August 2013. Page Author: Laura Bimpson.