Is government really going to send this nonsense to all taxpayers?

I don't know whether HMRC has yet started sending out the 'tax summaries' which have been widely reported and commented on over the last couple of days. The table here shows why, if they haven't, it would be a good idea to pulp them and start again.

Big words,thin ice. IDS on worklessness and social housing.

More detail than anyone is likely to want on why Iain Duncan Smith's claims to be 'breaking up 'shameless' housing estates' are about as well-founded as you might expect. In the spirit of scrupulous fairness I've looked at two possible data sources- see the update to the article for the second. On balance I now think Mr Duncan Smith is probably guilty of confirmation bias rather than of deliberately selecting the stats to make his case, so please read the update as well as the article.

Housing crisis? What housing crisis?

Here's a chart showing British working age social security benefit caseloads over time, matched up with the administrations of different prime ministers and what seemed to me to be some of the relevant cultural highlights of the time.

Getting things wrong collectively

I wrote the draft article in the linked PDF about four years ago. As is the way with all too many drafts it then worked its way to the bottom of my workload and stayed there, never making it to a final draft stage. I'm publishing it now because I think its main argument resonates with some current debates about public attitudes and public perceptions, particularly with regard to poverty.

We should expect something better than 'not quite false' from the Treasury

The chart/table are based on those provided by the Treasury and reported in yesterday's Telegraph As far as I am aware I've used the same source material. The main difference is that the Treasury chart includes social services spending under 'welfare', something taxpayers receiving the government's new 'tax statements' later this year are unlikely to be aware of....

Trouble at the top

Inequality is back, and in a way few people anticipated before the financial markets meltdowns of 2007/8. Back then, to the extent that inequality was discussed (mostly on the left) it was in terms of the bottom of the income distribution. When people (not just on the left) talk about inequality today, they are much more likely to be talking about inequality at the top, indeed at the very top: not the top 20% or 10% but the top 1% or even 0.1%.

Ending dependency

There's no excuse for a blogpost of over 3,000 words other than that, as we say, I didn't have time to write anything shorter. I've been puzzled for some time as to why neo-republican political theory hasn't (as far as I'm aware) had much to say about social security policy except at the most general level (e.g. along the lines of 'republicanism provides a sounder theoretical basis than liberalism'). To anyone familiar with early modern political discourse, the very idea of 'welfare dependency' should set off sparks of recognition- after all, the main criterion for citizenship for republicans was not being dependent. And if the target of neorepublican theory is people being placed in a position of subjection to arbitrary will, current conditionality and sanctions policy looks pretty relevant. I argue that something like the republican concept of freedom as status, with dependency as its opposite term, helps us understand how we got here. (An alternative title for this piece might be 'From status to contract and back again'.)

At the core of the idea of dependency, for 18th century republicans and 21st century welfare reformers, is an idea of 'impaired agency' (a term I've borrowed from Robert Pippin and am probably using in ways he never intended). Its use today is deeply ideological, but it gets traction from real-world changes in labour markets and family structure in the late 20th century which left many people without access to the main form of ascribed independent status, waged labour. I also suggest that the discourse of 'welfare dependency' thrives on tensions in our political ideas. If that's the case, political theory may be able to help in identifying the sources of tension, if not in resolving issues.

Active Labour Market Programmes- the missing element in UK welfare?

A quick chart on social spending on Active Labour Market Programmes among OECD countries (data from OECD SOCX). As you can see, the UK spends a lot less on this type of programme than most of its nearest geographical neighbours and is well below the OECD average.

James Turner Street

There are two pervasive myths about welfare in the UK which are routinely retailed by politicians and the media. The first is the myth of the family where ‘nobody has worked for generations’. The second is the myth of the area where ‘nobody works around here’.

Social security expenditure as a share of GDP in global perspective

Data from the ILO social security database on non-healthcare social protection spending as a share of GDP, for 145 countries for which this data is available. The green curve (using World Bank population data) shows the cumulative share of the world population as we move from low-spending to high-spending countries (strictly speaking, of this part of the world's population as we don't have data for all countries- however, the ones we do have data for account for the great majority of the global population).