United Kingdom

   

Social Policies

#7
Key Findings
With a largely effective social-benefits system, the United Kingdom scores well overall (rank 7) with regard to social policies. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.1 point since 2014.

Recent higher-education fee hikes remain very controversial, though enrollment rates have remained steady. Concerns about student debt levels have prompted proposals that fees should be reduced, or that the student loan system needs to be reformed. Universities fear that Brexit will harm their ability to attract EU students and researchers. PISA results have improved.

A reform seeking to repeal a series of targeted welfare payments with a single payment mechanism has met with implementation difficulties, with support levels falling for larger families. An affordable-housing shortage has particularly affected urban low-income households. Pension benefits are robust, and the system is fiscally sustainable.

The universal healthcare system remains strong, but service provision has been unable to keep pace with rising demand. Winter crises, with hospitals struggling to find bed space, have become the norm. Funding for social care has been cut, resulting in the use of more costly hospital care. The government has promised to curb immigration after Brexit.

Education

#13

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 interschool 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 interschool 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.

The latest PISA results for 2018 showed some improvement for the United Kingdom, with a jump from 22nd to 14th in reading, from 27th to 18th in science and a slight change from 15th to 14th in maths, and a widening of its advantage compared with the OECD average. Education spending per pupil has not experienced any significant rise since 2009. The Johnson government introduced a spending program of £4.3 billion until 2022. This measure aims to reverse the trend of stagnating education spending.

In the higher education sector, the substantial increase in tuition fees, from £3,300 to levels now in excess of £9,250 per student per year, has been contentious, and there have been suggestions both that fees should fall and that the student loan system needs to be reformed. This could put students off from studying in the most expensive parts of the country, such as London and Oxford. 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. Though 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 member states 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/2018/aug/06/restore-grant-system-for-poor-students-urges-russell-group-chief
https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/14370
https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/oct/29/key-points-from-budget-2018-at-a-glance

Social Inclusion

#18

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, and Boris Johnson has emphasized his “one-nation” Tory stance. It remains to be seen how this rhetoric will coagulate into social policy. However, one recent major social policy reforms – the introduction of Universal Credit, which aims to replace a series of targeted welfare payments with a single payment mechanism – has been beset by implementation difficulties.

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 “social mobility is stagnant.” 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 (11.9%) is still almost three times that of the overall unemployment rate (4.0%). A recent policy innovation has been the creation of a social mobility index. Over a long-term perspective, the proportion of “NEETs” (people who are not in employment, education or training) is decreasing, although the rate has remained stable over the last year. It 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 and a law allowing heterosexual civil partnerships was passed in 2019. While reservations regarding multiculturalism and anti-immigrant sentiments remain common, with some surfacing around Brexit, immigrants tend to be more socially integrated than in many other countries. Policy initiatives over several governments have contributed to a social climate in which discrimination is seen as unacceptable.

Citations:
https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/798687/SMC_State_of_Nation_2018-19_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

https://data.oecd.org/emp/employment-rate-by-age-group.htm

https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peoplenotinwork/unemployment/bulletins/youngpeoplenotineducationemploymentortrainingneet/august2019

Health

#20

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. Most healthcare 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 healthcare system.

Despite consistent real increases in public funding for healthcare by governments of all colors, provision has been unable to keep pace with rising demand. Winter healthcare “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. New reports regularly refer to a service, which – while offering excellent clinical care – often struggles to cope. While patient convenience may not be a central focus of NHS provision, attempts have been made to improve local healthcare by creating Health and Well-Being Boards to bring together representatives from all social services as well as elected representatives. The quality of NHS services, monitored by an independent Care Quality Commission, is high, as reported by the Human Development Index (HDI) health indicator. 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 and missing targets for patient waiting times.

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 healthcare, 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.

The NHS is invariably at the center of heated public debates, with competing narratives again evident in the 2019 election campaign. 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 24/7 operation in response to concerns that treatment at weekend was of lower standard. A new working contract for junior doctors including a pay rise, and friendlier rules for weekends and long shifts came into practice in 2019. Nevertheless, healthcare in the United Kingdom 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

http://hdr.undp.org/en/countries/profiles/GBR

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jun/26/junior-doctors-agree-to-82-pay-riseending-four-year-dispute

Families

#15

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. A 2016 evaluation from the National Institute for Economic and Social Research revealed 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. However, an internal evaluation by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in 2019 found much more positive results, paving the way for the program to be renewed.

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. The difficulties around the introduction of Universal Credit have had negative effects on some families, not least by lowering support for larger families.

Citations:
National Evaluation of the Troubled Families Programme

https://www.workingfamilies.org.uk/articles/universal-credit/

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/786889/National_evaluation_of_the_Troubled_Families_Programme_2015_to_2020_evaluation_overview_policy_report.pdf

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. Successive governments, perhaps fearing a backlash from “gray” voters, have pledged to maintain this policy, 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 compared to other European countries. Older people lacking earnings-related pensions are at a comparatively high risk of poverty. 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.

Citations:
Ebbinghaus, Bernhard (2019): Pension reforms and old age inequalities in Europe: From old to new social risks?, Conference Paper, European Sociological Association Conference, Manchester 2019

Integration

#10

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.
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 2016, 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.

A distinction has to be made between the openness to diversity in British society, culture and institutions, which undoubtedly surpasses that of many other European countries, and the stance of UK governments over the last decade toward immigration. As home secretary, Theresa May introduced a target of keeping net migration to “tens of thousands,” although this target was consistently missed by a wide margin. In pursuit of this target, the Home Office adopted a “hostile environment policy” to deter immigration to the United Kingdom.

A direct result of the hostile environment policy was the so-called Windrush scandal in 2018. Home Office employees had destroyed legal documents of citizens who originally came to the United Kingdom as Commonwealth citizens before the 1970s, resulting in a number of unjustified deportations or withdrawals of rights to re-enter the United Kingdom. The public and political outcry, itself a manifestation of societal attitudes, led to rapid action to overturn evident injustices, but introduced no major legislative changes. The recently appointed home secretary, Priti Patel, has promised to curb immigration after Brexit, and signaled that there would be no distinction between EU and non-EU citizens, raising concerns about a hardline immigration policy and the status of immigrants in the United Kingdom.

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.

https://www.bbc.com/news/av/uk-politics-46034742/yvette-cooper-is-confused-by-caroline-nokes-position-on-eu-migrants-after-brexit

Priti Patel’s Conservative Party Conference speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p1mJFJDPdOQ

Safe Living

#14

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.
Internal Security Policy
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. However, there has been some concern about the impact of the substantial reduction in police numbers on the ability of the police to respond. Doubts have also surfaced about the effectiveness of elected Police and Crime Commissioners.

The coalition government abolished some of the harsh counterterrorism 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 member states, 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

#6

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 OECD countries, which has maintained a commitment to devote 0.7% of GNI to foreign aid. In 2017, only Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark and Turkey met this target. Under the coalition government, this spending was ring-fenced against cuts and the recent spending review has reaffirmed the commitment, despite frequent criticism from some populist politicians.

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.

While accepting its formal duty of care to asylum-seekers, the United Kingdom has been reluctant to join efforts by certain other EU member states to accommodate refugees and maintains tough border controls, including in the English Channel which emerged as an entry point for displaced persons and economic migrants over the last two years.
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