United Kingdom

   

Social Policies

#8
Key Findings
With a largely effective social-benefits system, the United Kingdom scores well overall (rank 8) with regard to social policies. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.2 points since 2014.

Higher-education fee hikes remain very controversial, though enrollment rates have remained steady. Concerns about student debt levels have prompted renewed debate over tertiary funding. Universities fear that Brexit will harm their ability to gain access to EU students and researchers.

Child poverty is down, but inequality levels are high. An affordable-housing shortage has particularly affected urban low-income households. Gender-equity, child-care and parental-leave policies are robust .Pension reforms have shifted risk to individual pensioners, but the system is fiscally sustainable.

The universal health care service remains strong, but hospitals are experiencing funding difficulties. Winter crises, with hospitals struggling to find bed space for emergency intakes, have become the norm. Anti-immigrant rhetoric surrounding the Brexit “leave” campaign contributed to attacks on minorities and immigrants. Concern over terrorist threats remains high.

Education

#12

To what extent does education policy deliver high-quality, equitable and efficient education and training?

10
 9

Education policy fully achieves the criteria.
 8
 7
 6


Education policy largely achieves the criteria.
 5
 4
 3


Education policy partially achieves the criteria.
 2
 1

Education policy does not achieve the criteria at all.
Education Policy
7
The Cameron government continued the marketization strategy pursued by the previous coalition and Labour governments. It pursued a policy of liberalizing school regulation to enable non-governmental organizations – such as foundations, businesses and parent-teacher corporations – to set up their own schools, while also strengthening government powers to intervene in “failing” schools and turn them into sponsored academies. The core of this policy was to improve performance by boosting inter-school competition, as measured by performance tables administered by the regulator, Ofsted.

Ongoing programs, such as Pupil Premium, are designed to simultaneously improve educational outcomes and strengthen social cohesion by encouraging well-performing schools to accept disadvantaged children. However, the socioeconomic composition of many of the United Kingdom’s schools still poses a significant challenge for students from disadvantaged and immigrant backgrounds. A Children’s Commission on Poverty inquiry indicated that inter-school competition has increased financial costs for pupils and their families, as many schools try to stand out by introducing fancier uniforms, new textbooks or extravagant field trips. Education has been among the areas largely protected from public spending cuts. Prime Minister May announced plans for new grammar schools, state run secondary schools subject to selection on academic grounds, but considered by many in the United Kingdom to be contrary to social mobility. However, May’s announcement has not yet been put into action.

In the higher education sector, the substantial increase in tuition fees, from £3,300 to levels now in excess of £9,000 per year, has been contentious. However, so far, there has been no discernible effect on overall student enrollment rates or on access to higher education for students from poorer backgrounds, although concerns about the level of student debt have prompted renewed debate over the funding of tertiary education. British universities are concerned that the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union will be damaging, especially if accompanied by a clampdown on EU migrants. Fears that students from other EU countries will be deterred from applying to what is a highly successful sector, that EU nationals will be put off from working in British universities and that participation in EU research programs will become harder have led to demands from university leaders for a “soft” Brexit. There have been reports of EU consortia being reluctant to include British researchers in new research proposals.

Citations:
WEF ranks quality of UK education system as 15th in Global Competitiveness Report 2017/18 (Singapore 1st, USA 20th, GER 25th, F 28th).

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/jul/12/uk-scientists-dropped-from-eu- projects-because-of-post-brexit-funding-fears

Social Inclusion

#13

To what extent does social policy prevent exclusion and decoupling from society?

10
 9

Policies very effectively enable societal inclusion and ensure equal opportunities.
 8
 7
 6


For the most part, policies enable societal inclusion effectively and ensure equal opportunities.
 5
 4
 3


For the most part, policies fail to prevent societal exclusion effectively and ensure equal opportunities.
 2
 1

Policies exacerbate unequal opportunities and exclusion from society.
Social Inclusion Policy
7
A traditional system of social class has long been a feature of British society. Since 1997, successive governments have sought, through a variety of policy instruments and initiatives, to overcome these divisions and to promote social mobility and inclusion. In his short second term as prime minister, David Cameron followed a classic one-nation conservatism policy that aimed to make the United Kingdom “a place where a good life is in reach for everyone who is willing to work and do the right thing,” which echoed the “welfare to work” policy approach of the previous coalition and Labour governments. His successor, Theresa May, followed this path by declaring her “mission to make Britain a country that works for everyone” in her first statement as prime minister in July 2016, although with a slightly more leftist spin. It remains to be seen how this rhetoric will coagulate into social policy.

However, while applauding a sharp reduction in child poverty and an increase in the enrollment rate of students from disadvantaged backgrounds in tertiary education, the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission’s latest State of the Nation report also observed that “progress to date has been too limited and too slow.” The report noted the persistence of divisions around various social criteria, including class, geography and race. Although the United Kingdom’s Gini coefficient has fallen significantly – a common phenomenon after a grave recession – it remains relatively high compared to other OECD countries and the distribution of wealth has become more unequal. The youth unemployment rate fell to 12.0% by October 2017, but it is still almost three times that of the overall unemployment rate of 4.3%. A recent policy innovation has been the creation of a social mobility index. Overall, the proportion of “NEETs” (people who are not in employment, education or training), continued to decline, but is still high in some of the less affluent cities. In addition, the average income of young people has started to lag behind the average income of other working-age population groups. A chronic shortage of affordable housing has further exacerbated the situation of low-income households in the more prosperous metropolitan areas across the southeast of England. This shortage has made it especially difficult for young people to get on to the housing ladder.

Despite persistent economic inequalities, the United Kingdom has a relatively good record in promoting the inclusion of disadvantaged groups and ethnic minorities, and also has a relatively good record on gender equality. There has been a discernible social shift against forms of discriminatory language or action, with a number of public figures being ostracized as a result of inappropriate comments. Legislation allowing same-sex marriage came into force in 2014. While reservations regarding multiculturalism and anti-immigrant sentiments remain common, immigrants tend to be more socially integrated than in many other countries. However, the anti-immigrant rhetoric of some “leave” campaign messaging, and widely reported attacks on immigrants and social minorities in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum testify to the persistence of hostile attitudes in some quarters.

Citations:
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/485928/State_of_the_nation_2015__foreword_and_summary.pdf

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/532793/Main_text_SFR22_2016.pdf

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/social-mobility-index

https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/statement-from-the-new-prime-minister- theresa-may

Health

#18

To what extent do health care policies provide high-quality, inclusive and cost-efficient health care?

10
 9

Health care policy achieves the criteria fully.
 8
 7
 6


Health care policy achieves the criteria largely.
 5
 4
 3


Health care policy achieves the criteria partly.
 2
 1

Health care policy does not achieve the criteria at all.
Health Policy
6
The National Health Service (NHS) remains a cornerstone of the United Kingdom’s universal welfare state and is widely regarded as a core public institution. However, the decentralization of clinical commission groups, which has affected all 8,000 general practices in England, has been controversial. Most health care provided by the NHS is free at the point of delivery. However, there are charges for prescriptions and dental treatment, though specific demographic groups (e.g., pensioners) are exempt from these charges. There is a limited private health care system.

While patient convenience may not be a central focus of NHS provision, attempts have been made to improve local health care by creating Health and Well-Being Boards to bring together representatives from all social services as well as elected representatives. The NHS’s quality as measured by the Human Development Index (HDI) health index is very high (0.909). The financial position of many hospital trusts is rather precarious and has been the subject of growing concern over the last year, with more hospitals struggling to maintain standards.

As a universal service, the NHS scores very highly in terms of inclusion. The Health and Social Act 2012 now also allows patients to choose a general practitioner without geographical restrictions. Quality is generally high. However, input and outcome indicators of health care, such as how quickly cancer patients are seen by specialists or the incidence of “bed-blocking” (i.e., where complementary social care is difficult to arrange and so patients are kept in hospital), vary considerably across localities. A report by the Commission on the Future of Health and Social Care in England recommended that health and social care services should be much more closely integrated, but there has, to date, been little improvement. Winter health care “crises” have become the norm as hospitals struggle to cope with emergency admissions and have to cancel routine operations to free bed-space. This is partly because of the aging of the population, but also highlights inadequacies in funding and in organization of care services for the elderly. Social care is funded by local authorities and has been financially squeezed, resulting in more costly hospital care having to be used.

The NHS is invariably at the center of heated public debates. Lately, the debate has been sparked by the changes in the 2016/17 tariff, which regulates public funding for patient treatment and staff salaries. The tariff changes have shifted and reduced the public payment to clinics and acute trusts – private hospital operating companies commissioned by the Department of Health. These changes contradicted many existing business models and aggravated the funding crises of several major acute trusts. There has also been a long-running dispute over the pay and working conditions of junior doctors, which has led to strikes. The protracted dispute between the government and junior doctors’ concerns government attempts to achieve full 7/24 operation in response to concerns that treatment at weekend was of lower standard, but the government’s plans have still not come to fruition. Nevertheless, UK health care remains way above average on an international scale.

The unclear future status of EU working migrants has many health experts worried, since the UK health service relies on the recruitment of staff at all levels from other EU member states and third countries.

Citations:
http://www.kingsfund.org.uk/sites/files/kf/field/field_publication_file/Commission%20Final%20%20interactive.pdf

Families

#14

To what extent do family support policies enable women to combine parenting with participation in the labor market?

10
 9

Family support policies effectively enable women to combine parenting with employment.
 8
 7
 6


Family support policies provide some support for women who want to combine parenting and employment.
 5
 4
 3


Family support policies provide only few opportunities for women who want to combine parenting and employment.
 2
 1

Family support policies force most women to opt for either parenting or employment.
Family Policy
8
Over the last twenty years, policy initiatives to improve the work-life balance and opportunities for women’s participation in the labor-market have included expanding the provision of childcare facilities extending maternity leave and the introduction of paternity leave. More recently, there have been public calls for companies to increase the number of women on their board of directors, while the possibility of introducing quotas for company boards has been raised.

The Cameron government had emphasized the Troubled Families program, established in 2011. The program aims to help families in precarious situations with personal mentoring and support from local social workers. However, a recent evaluation from the National Institute for Economic and Social Research reviled mixed results. The increased spending apparently did not result in any statistically significant betterment in the living conditions of the supported families, though at the same time the subjective reporting of the supported families did improve.

Cuts in welfare spending, associated with the central policy of reducing the budget deficit, have negatively affected some core family policy measures, especially for single mothers who rely disproportionately on social benefits.

Citations:
National Evaluation of the Troubled Families Programme

Pensions

#10

To what extent does pension policy realize goals of poverty prevention, intergenerational equity and fiscal sustainability?

10
 9

Pension policy achieves the objectives fully.
 8
 7
 6


Pension policy achieves the objectives largely.
 5
 4
 3


Pension policy achieves the objectives partly.
 2
 1

Pension policy does not achieve the objectives at all.
Pension Policy
8
The United Kingdom has a three-pillar pension system in which the second (employer-based) is the mainstay. Private pension funds were hardest hit by the financial crisis as investment yields fell, and some needed capital injections from employers. However, this has not had a significant effect on the incomes of those already retired. New entrants into private pension schemes are being offered less attractive terms than their predecessors. The Pensions Act 2010 will increase the state pension age to 66, from 65 for men and 60 for women, by 2020. Certain reforms have shifted pressure from pension funds to individual pensioners. These reforms will change the pensioners’ living conditions substantially in the years to come. However, compared with many other countries, the UK public pension system is fiscally sustainable and guarantees the maintenance of a minimum income for pensioners through a “triple lock” of raising the basic state pension by the highest rate of inflation, average wages or 2% per annum. The Cameron government had pledged to maintain this policy and the May government seems intent to maintain this course, despite some criticism about the growing burden on the “millennial” generation.

The United Kingdom used to have a comparatively high degree of poverty among the elderly, but this has improved as pension provision has expanded, an increase in the proportion of pensioners owning mortgage-free properties and through specific additional payments, such as winter heating. The overall figures disguise some inequalities among groups of pensioners. For example, lifelong housewives fare much worse than those who have the benefit of adding occupational or private pensions to their income from the state pension system. Most pensioners are, however, on reasonably comfortable incomes. If anything, recent debate has been about cutting some of the fringe benefits of better-off pensioners, such as free bus travel, because of fears about an undue burden on younger generations.

Integration

#8

How effectively do policies support the integration of migrants into society?

10
 9

Cultural, education and social policies effectively support the integration of migrants into society.
 8
 7
 6


Cultural, education and social policies seek to integrate migrants into society, but have failed to do so effectively.
 5
 4
 3


Cultural, education and social policies do not focus on integrating migrants into society.
 2
 1

Cultural, education and social policies segregate migrant communities from the majority society.
Integration Policy
6
Due to the country’s colonial history, the United Kingdom has a large share of ethnic minorities (approximately 14% of the population), and integration has long been an important area of government policy. However, while the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 imposed the general duty to promote race equality on all public authorities, the United Kingdom has not developed a formal integration program. The focus has been more on the protection of minorities than on the integration of migrants, but that is because the United Kingdom has a preference for multiculturalism. There are both regional and ethnic differences in integration, with some cities and smaller towns having concentrations of populations of distinct ethnic groups, and tensions over access to public housing and public services in localities where recent immigrants have concentrated.

The Equality Act 2006 merged three existing bodies (including the Commission for Racial Equality) into a new Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). The EHRC is an umbrella organization, which attempts to enforce integration and equality across several dimensions, such as ethnicity. In recent years, attempts to create a national narrative around “Britishness” were aimed at changing from an ethnocentric concept of citizenship to a more civic one. Despite the anti-immigration narrative of the UK Independence Party and the tensions associated with the refugee crisis (particularly concerning the refugee camp near Calais), in high-profile cases (e.g., cases involving celebrities or police officers) where racist language was used, the perpetrators have been roundly condemned.

Attempts to increase diversity in parliament have been promoted by both major parties. As a consequence, public life reflects society more today than it did two decades ago. However, in public bodies, such as the police, concerns remain that minority ethnic groups are under-represented.

During and shortly after the Brexit referendum in 2015, there was an increase in anti-immigrant rhetoric and racially motivated crimes. Although it subsequently declined, it then rose again after the terrorist attacks in London and Manchester in 2017. Bodies such as the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) and Human Rights Watch have expressed concern. It is, however, important to stress that British society remains broadly hostile to discrimination and that policy remains supportive of the integration of migrants.

Citations:
National Police Chiefs’ Council Report 08. Jul 2016.

United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination: CERD/C/GBR/CO/21-23.

European Commission against Racism and Intolerance: ECRI Report on the United Kingdom, 4 October 2016.

Safe Living

#11

How effectively does internal security policy protect citizens against security risks?

10
 9

Internal security policy protects citizens against security risks very effectively.
 8
 7
 6


Internal security policy protects citizens against security risks more or less effectively.
 5
 4
 3


Internal security policy does not effectively protect citizens against security risks.
 2
 1

Internal security policy exacerbates the security risks.
Safe Living Conditions
8
Objectively speaking, citizens of the United Kingdom have enjoyed improved security over the last 15 years as the crime rate has dropped significantly and consistently (although it continues to be relatively high in absolute terms when compared to other OECD countries). This is not reflected, however, in increased subjective perception of security, since British citizens (probably influenced by media reporting) perceive crime to be on the rise. The issue thus remains in the public spotlight, and cuts in the budgets of the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice – in line with overall budget cuts to fight the deficit – have therefore been politically contentious. The most recent figures do, nevertheless, suggest a further fall in crime, although questions have been raised about whether “new” crimes like cybercrime are being adequately recorded. Moreover, even in higher crime areas, there are few signs that citizens consider the environment to be unsafe.

The coalition government abolished some of the harsh counter-terrorism laws introduced by earlier Labour governments in an attempt to correct the balance in favor of civil rights. A new National Crime Agency started work in the autumn of 2013 as a central body for crime fighting. Certain high-profile revelations of police malpractice, including the recently exposed falsification of records in the Hillsborough football disaster of 1989, have led to disquiet about police behavior, but have not conspicuously undermined confidence. There is some concern about inadequate responses to cybercrime, with significant increases reported in crime statistics.

The 2015 Conservative government – and its Home Secretary Theresa May –reformed the police disciplinary and complaint system to improve trust between citizens and the police. Furthermore, it has made the Police Federation subject to the Freedom of Information Act to improve transparency in the police force.

There is continuing concern about terrorist threats, accentuated by the renewed difficulties in the Middle East and the evidence of the involvement of UK-born jihadis and, as in many other EU countries, sporadic terrorist attacks. There is concern about the threat posed by returning fighters from the Middle East, which has led to an increase in resources for the security services. There are occasional briefings from these services about “plots disrupted.”

Global Inequalities

#5

To what extent does the government demonstrate an active and coherent commitment to promoting equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries?

10
 9

The government actively and coherently engages in international efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries. It frequently demonstrates initiative and responsibility, and acts as an agenda-setter.
 8
 7
 6


The government actively engages in international efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries. However, some of its measures or policies lack coherence.
 5
 4
 3


The government shows limited engagement in international efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries. Many of its measures or policies lack coherence.
 2
 1

The government does not contribute (and often undermines) efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries.
Global Social Policy
8
Despite regular objections from politicians, the United Kingdom has been one of the few countries, which has maintained a commitment to devote 0.7% of GNI to foreign aid. In 2016, only Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and, for the first time, Germany did the same. Under the coalition government, this spending was ring-fenced against cuts and the recent spending review has reaffirmed the commitment.

Development assistance spending is coordinated by the Department for International Development, whose work is scrutinized by the newly created Independent Commission for Aid Impact.

In general, the United Kingdom is a proponent of open markets and fair access for developing countries, although an attempt in the late 1990s to espouse an ethical trade policy was subsequently quietly dropped.

However, although the UK government has ring-fenced international development aid, this generosity has not been extended to the millions of refugees who, escaping war and poverty, have arrived in Europe over the last year. The UK government has repeatedly refused to shelter any refugee who had already made it to Europe and was reluctant to take more than a few hundred vulnerable children following the closure of the Calais “jungle.” Instead, the UK government has offered to accept 20,000 refugees from camps in Syria over the next five years. Compared to the number of refugees already living in the overcrowded registration and aid facilities of other EU countries, 20,000 is very little. While politically understandable in the context of the EU referendum and recent general election results, this position contrasts sharply to the otherwise generous approach to international aid policy.
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