Social security under the Coalition and Conservatives: Shredding the system for people of working age; privileging pensioners

Stephen McKay, Karen Rowlingson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


In this chapter we consider the changes made to social security – increasingly known as ‘welfare’ – during the period of the Coalition Government, and in the early days of the majority Conservative Government. First, we set the context in terms of the amount of spending on social security policy. As the largest single budget of any government department, social security was clearly a key target for a Coalition Government determined to reduce public spending. However, policies were not just driven by fiscal goals but also ideological aims in terms of changing individual behaviour and reducing the role of the state in preference to the market.
The chapter then gives an overview of the key social security reforms before focusing separately on policies relating to those of working age and those over state pension age. This has become an increasingly important distinction since 2010, with those of working age (whether or not with children) being the key target for reform leaving pensioners relatively protected from austerity cuts.
The chapter then reviews the impacts of the reforms alongside the key themes of reform, identifying the influence of the Liberal Democrats on Coalition policy. It then compares these recent reforms with those of the previous New Labour Governments (1997-2010) and the prior Conservative Government (1979-1997). We conclude that there is much continuity but also some radical change, not least the introduction of benefit caps and the effective abandonment of policy to reduce child poverty. An intensification of the neo-liberal project is further pursued by the 2015Conservative majority government.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe coalition government and social policy
Subtitle of host publicationRestructuring the welfare state
EditorsHugh Bochel, Martin Powell
PublisherThe Policy Press
ISBN (Print)9781447324577
Publication statusPublished - May 2016


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