UK policy context

Until the advent of Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1979, a postwar consensus by all the main parties was built around the acceptance of the welfare state, the mixed economy (where nationalised industries such as energy, water and the railways functioned alongside private, profit making companies) and collectivism (the importance of the group or community as opposed to the individual). This consensus collapsed with the advent of Mrs Thatcher and the New Right whose key policies included deregulation of business, a dismantling of the welfare state, privatization of nationalized industries and restructuring of the national workforce in order to increase industrial and economic flexibility in an increasingly global market .

In many respects Blair’s Labour government from 1997 onwards adhered to the new political landscape defined by eighteen years of Conservative government rule. It continued the neo-liberal agenda of previous Conservative governments but with a renewed emphasis on social justice. Examples of the former include its abandonment of Keynesian economics in favour of supply side intervention and granting independence to the Bank of England. Examples of the latter include Labour’s New Deal which sough to re-define the welfare state as ‘enabler’ by creating a skilled workforce, flexible enough to compete in the global marketplace .

Neither Conservative or Labour governments seriously sought to address the growing inequality evident throughout this 30-year period but Labour did seek to address poverty with a raft of measures such as the introduction of the National Minimum Wage, Sure Start, significant increases in education spending and the introduction of the Working Tax Credit System which did so much to reduce child poverty.