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- Author or Editor: Donald Hirsch x
This chapter explores the evolution of the level of benefits entitlement of different UK families and whether these are enough to meet minimum needs. It uses the Minimum Income Standard, a family-specific budget derived by iterative group discussions between people from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds, supplemented by selective inputs from nutrition, domestic, and transportation experts. Since 2010, safety net benefits have declined but pensioners’ entitlements are much closer to what they need (just over 90 per cent). This ties into the widespread perception that pensioners have been protected from the worst effects of austerity. On average, families with children get slightly over half and singles without children only a third. The chapter concludes that although the UK’s safety net benefits have never maintained a systematic link with need, they have recently become less adequate and more arbitrary. It provides a strong case for strengthening the link between basic household needs and government safety net benefits.
This chapter promotes the UK Minimum Income Standards (MIS) as a benchmark in social policy and practice. It explains how the MIS research continues to have a strong influence over social policy debates in Britain and exposes the inadequacy of the national minimum wage that helped fuel the campaign for a “living wage.” It also features MIS as a key element in the new Scottish measure of fuel poverty. The chapter observes how MIS has not been taken up by governments as a standard for setting or targeting minimum incomes in terms of social protection. It observes that it will require a major political commitment to redistribution if the British government were to adopt MIS.
An early exit from working life might be interpreted in one of the three ways. One is that people are taking a positive choice to increase their lifetime leisure. Second, is that they face distorted financial incentives to retire or claim invalidity benefits rather than continue working, and therefore do not have to face the true economic cost of a decision to leave work. Third, is that people lack sufficient opportunity and capacity to carry on working, regardless of their preferences and the economic consequences. For a decade, early retirement was seen largely in positive terms. People retiring were seen as people enjoying the fruits of prosperity. However, in the following few years, the view of an early exit from work was reversed due to economic imperatives and the feared consequences of falling labour participation combined with lengthening life expectancy. As a result, much of the public debate has focused on the second factor, retirement incentives and for making the cost of retirement bearable for the individual. At the same time, while financial considerations have profound influences, the workforce exit is more about whether people are able to continue working than whether they think it is financially worthwhile. This chapter examines how policy makers, employers and individuals might approach the issue of job retention. It also suggests that the most effective responses move beyond a focus on the immediate circumstances surrounding retirement, to consider how working lives need to change to make them more sustainable.
The Minimum Income Standard (MIS), a method for constructing minimum household budgets based on public consensus, helps to operationalise Townsend's concept of a ‘participatory social minimum’. Since 2008 MIS has tracked changes in the contents and cost of minimum baskets of goods and services. The article reflects on aspects of this research: the living standard that MIS represents, how consensus is reached and its record of providing consistent results over time. Understanding these features allows policy makers, practitioners and analysts to use the results of MIS appropriately, alongside other research, to benchmark the success of measures to promote adequate incomes.