Can universal benefits survive?

Universal benefits – paid to everyone regardless of income – are coming under increasing scrutiny as the government tries to reduce the welfare bill.

Last week The Sun launched a “Ditch Handouts to the Rich”campaign, targeting benefits like the Winter Fuel Allowance that are paid to all pensioners.

Over the weekend, Janet Daley in the Sunday Telegraph weighed in to the debate, writing that “the state can no longer afford blanket cash handouts to whole swaths of the population, based on quite arbitrary criteria (an age which is not even the normal retirement point) and regardless of their individual means.”

In The Guardian, Michael White seems to agree that “free bus passes and winter fuel help for dukes and bankers are hard to justify as “progressive universalism” except in political terms: it locks them in.”  He believes Beveridge would have been “puzzled” by efforts aimed at “defending benefits for high earners solely on principle.”

Is “principle” a strong enough reason for keeping universal benefits or – as benefits and pensions approach one third of the national budget (£202.6 bn, from an overall spend of £701.7bn last year) – do we need to re-think the system?

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One thought on “Can universal benefits survive?

  1. We must end this culture of entitlement that now permeates our society at every level. Self reliance must start coming into people’s mindset albeit alongside help for those who genuinely need it. Tax credits encourage most earners to expect state handouts & was probably a politically motivated idea tantamount to gerrymandering. The current tax & benefits system needs radical action to simplify it & leave people, including those most in need of genuine assistance, enough money without the need for universal benefits, as to means test these adds greatly to the pecuniary burden. Once given benefits are very difficult to remove unless a clear vision of the goal is communicated to people to get them on side. Very difficult indeed but that should not be a barrier to trying and we must always bear in mind the value to the taxpayer as the state has no money of its own, a fact often completely overlooked these days.

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