Labour’s 2017 general election manifesto contained a pledge to ‘end the punitive sanctions regime’ in the British welfare state. Whilst the specific implications of this pledge were not elaborated, such a policy would nevertheless constitute a profound break with a welfare consensus spanning over twenty years. The depth of the suggested changes on welfare are also evident in the scale of reform proposed to disability benefits, as well as plans – confirmed in August 2018 by the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell – to pilot universal basic income. Collectively, these policies would seemingly be deeply at odds with public opinion on the benefits system, which over the course of the last two decades has significantly hardened. Yet despite the seemingly radical and controversial nature of the policy, it received very little media or public attention during the election campaign. This article explores Labour’s ‘quiet revolution’ on welfare, examining whether Labour’s new welfare approach is indeed a bold attempt to reshape public opinion on welfare or, alternatively, a mostly pragmatic reaction to changing social attitudes. The argument presented is that whilst there are persuasive explanations that Labour is responding to a change in the public mood, there is also evidence of a more ambitious goal at stake: the aim of reshaping, not simply responding to, public opinion on the welfare state.
- labour party
- social security