Why have environmental issues risen up the agenda in British politics over recent years?
Why has the Green Party struggled to make a major breakthrough within the modern British political landscape?
Why is environmental taxation a key area of political disagreement in modern British politics?
Explain how rival pressure groups challenge each other in relation to environmental policymaking.
What key international events and developments over recent years have influenced the debate about environmental issues in contemporary UK politics?
Why does the modern Conservative Party face tensions between traditionalists and environmentalists in formulating effective environmental policies.
How has transport policymaking presented environmental challenges to British governments since the 1990s?
What influence do international and global factors have on the formation of environmental policymaking for the contemporary UK government?
Short Question Title
Summarise the key arguments for and against environmental taxation in the UK.
Introduction (focus on the question title)
Key arguments for environmental taxation in the UK:
Key arguments against environmental taxation in the UK:
Analysis – Overview of environmental taxation in the UK, brief summary of facts and up-to-date situation
Conclusion – Focus on the question title and address the issues raised in the main body of the answer
(Model answer can be found on page 122.)
Exam Advice and Information: UK Politics (Unit 3A)
The examination that you will face for this module will consist of seven questions in total, from which you must select four. The topics cover some of the most topical and controversial issues in modern British politics so you will be expected to develop detailed arguments that cover the different aspects of key political debates. According to the exam board guidelines, questions are broadly based on the following themes:
Focusing on issues that have caused political controversy and which require explanation and analysis.
Political controversy that is often based on ideological differences between parties and inter-party conflict, as well as focusing on reasons why such controversies exist.
Questions will also often focus on the extent that there is either political consensus or conflict on certain issues.
Evaluation is often required to assess how political parties or specific governments have achieved their clear objectives in certain areas of policy.
To what extent that key principles behind the political issues being studied have changed and have been challenged over recent history.
The development and resolution of key political issues and the nature of the political landscape and context such issues that have emerged from.
Information adapted from source:
You have 1 hour 30 minutes in total to answer the questions that you choose.
You are required to answer three short answer questions from a choice of five (15 marks each), and are then expected to answer one longer essay question from a choice of three (45 marks). There are 90 marks available for this paper in total.
It is expected that the questions with the most marks available should generate longer answers, and it should be broadly accepted that a minute per mark should be applied to the essay questions. In this context, 15 mark essays should be answered in approximately 15 minutes, and a 45 minute question should be answered in approximately 45 minutes.
Unlike at AS Level, questions are not broken down into sections but are stand-alone questions requiring a single answer in traditional essay style.
Assessment of Marks
According to the Edexcel specification, marks are broadly awarded at this level as follows:
30% of marks awarded are for knowledge and understanding displayed
50% of marks awarded are for evaluation and analysis (more marks available in this section than at AS Level)
20% of marks awarded are for presenting facts and arguments coherently in a structured manner, using appropriate vocabulary
Top Exam Tips
Make sure that you read the question in full and are sure you can answer it as completely as possible before you start writing. Just because it is on a topic that you have revised does not necessarily mean you can answer the specific question in the exam.
Make sure you write the appropriate amount for the number of marks available. For example, 45-mark questions require full essay-length answers with more evidence, arguments and examples than shorter questions, while 15-mark essay questions require shorter written responses overall.
In the longer 45-mark questions, 12 marks are available for synoptic skills, the ability to link together themes from different parts and modules of the overall A2 course and to be able to identify different viewpoints on a topic and assess and analyse them. According to the specification, synopticity is further achieved by being aware of the significance of different viewpoints in relation to the issues within the question, while being able to assess the extent of how they differ.
Arguments must be clearly developed and explained. Most of the marks at this level are for analysis and developing arguments.
Make sure your written answers are well structured, with a clear introduction, well-argued paragraphs in the main body, and a clear conclusion that seeks to answer the question.
Keep your arguments and written style clear and well written. Marks are awarded for levels of communication.
Always use examples, preferably up-to-date and topical ones to support points and arguments made. This will impress examiners and indicate a good level of understanding/knowledge of contemporary politics, emphasising the importance of detailed factual knowledge at this
The following sample essay questions and feedback will give you an idea of the types of questions you will face in the examination and also how you should answer them in order to gain the best possible mark and impress the examiners.
Summarise the key arguments for and against environmental
taxation in the UK.
The issue of the environment has progressively risen up the agenda of British politics from the late 1980s onwards. In this context, over the past 25-30 years the UK’s political parties have sought to develop a ‘green’ agenda and compete for the increasing numbers of voters who are motivated and interested in this relatively new political issue. Using environmental issues as a basis for government taxation has been an emerging political debate in the UK over this period and it causes considerable arguments both for and against.
The increased attention given to this issue has seen a steady growth in support for the Green Party, but in terms of forming the national government, it has been the established parties who have had to adapt their policy agendas to embrace such environmental concerns. This was evident in that, following the Green Party’s initial breakthrough in the 1989 European elections (when they achieved an impressive 15% of the UK vote), the mainstream parties adopted many of the ‘green’ policies that the Green Party had promoted.
With increased media attention on the issue of global warming and climate change, all UK political parties have to make the environment a key part of their policy agenda and the role of the Environment Secretary of State is now seen as a significant Cabinet role. The Liberal Democrats have traditionally had the most pro-green policies of the three biggest political parties, and these have included increased use of environmental taxation in line with Green Party demands. The issue of environmental taxation is seen as an effective and ethical way of raising money for the government while also seeking to protect the environment as much as possible. However, it also raises objections as a further means by which governments can take money from the taxpayers and has the potential to be electorally unpopular.
Those in favour of green taxation claim that it is a positive and ethical form of taxation, funding government spending while also reducing environmental damage. It is also broadly in line with significant levels of social concern in relation to environmental issues. Areas of consumer spending such as petrol, cars and road use can be targeted by the government and funding can be raised accordingly, as can fuels and products used by some businesses. Pro-green arguments also point to the reality that there is considerable external pressure on British government today to meet various environmental targets, whether such targets are imposed by bodies such as the EU or the UN. The negative aspect of this approach to taxation is that one group of society (e.g. car users and businesses that rely heavily on transport) end up paying a disproportionate amount of tax. It is also claimed by opponents of environmental taxation that such proposals are a further means of state intervention and add to the overall tax burden while depressing economic activity in a negative way.
While smaller political parties such as the Greens and to a lesser extent, the Liberal Democrats, were quite vocal about the need for greater use of environmental taxation in the run-up to recent general elections, the two major parties have also shown some interest, yet at the same time expressed greater caution in the implementation of such a policy. This was because, as the two parties most likely to form the national government, they were perhaps more aware of the electoral repercussions of being too vocal in support of environmental taxation. This reflects the fact that many voters, once they are aware of the added expense of such taxes, may change their voting intentions as a result and the party proposing such taxes will suffer. Critics claim that such policies are effectively a further ‘stealth tax’ and there is no clear evidence that they actually reduce environmental damage and pollution. They are also said to disproportionately and unfairly target certain groups within society, e.g. car users.
In general, there is currently a healthy political debate to be had in British politics about the arguments for and against various methods of environmental taxation, and this has continued between the main parties both before and after the 2015 general election. On the one hand, an environmental and ‘green’ policy focus provides an ethical and innovative way for the government to raise money while also seeking to protect the environment, and the relative popularity of such policies is perhaps reflected in the relative growth in Green Party support. However, a counter-argument is that such policies are ineffective and merely inflict further levels of high taxation on businesses and consumers, depressing key economic activity in the process, and of which the more established parties are more aware.
This short essay addresses the significance of the environment as an emerging UK political issue in
the opening paragraph. It then refers to the key aspect of the question and focuses on the issue of environmental taxation as a part of a new policy agenda on the subject, and goes on to assess and analyse each party’s stance on the matter in turn. This structured approach allows the arguments to develop well in line with the question’s demands, and there is useful analysis throughout of the significance of this fairly recent policy agenda, citing some contemporary political developments. The essay has a structured and systematic approach which works well and provides a broad overview, analysis and comparison of where each political party stands on the matter.
Throughout the answer there is clear reference to the key arguments for and against the policy of environmental taxation, and this is summarised effectively in the conclusion.
Does a political consensus exist on law and order policies in the UK today?
Law and order is a political and social issue that has the potential to affect every citizen, and for this reason it generates a great deal of popular interest. Over the course of post-war political history, the two main parties appeared to have a clearly distinct approach in how best to deal with this issue, but in recent years there has been debate as to whether there has been more consensus or general agreement on this issue than has been the case in the past.
From the 1960s onwards in particular, Labour in office appeared to establish its ‘liberal’ credentials on this political use by presiding over the abolition of the death penalty and the decriminalisation of homosexuality and abortion. Labour generally appeared to be associated with a ‘softer’ approach to dealing with law and order, focusing on rehabilitation and addressing the causes of crime, possibly linked to Labour’s more optimistic view of human nature. Some on the left also developed a deep-seated hostility to the police, viewing the organisation as a conservative institution with right-wing sympathies. There has been significant political debate since as to what long-term impact such ‘liberal’ policies have had on British society in general, and whether this been a positive or negative development.
From the 1980s onwards, a ‘tougher’ approach to law and order was promoted by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government. This entailed a focus on harsher sentences and longer prison sentences as a means of fighting back against the liberal, permissive society created by the changes to law and order policy of the 1960s. This ‘populist’ approach sought to link in with strong trends within public opinion, which demanded longer prison sentences, and the government adopted such an outlook along with enhanced police pay and powers to enforce this viewpoint. Thatcher took a strong moral position on crime and pursued a ‘punitive’ approach in general, having limited sympathy with the argument that negative social factors in a person’s life could influence them turning to criminal activity. This view appeared to be linked to the more negative outlook of many Conservative politicians towards human nature. John Major adopted a similar stance in the 1990s, arguing that society needed to ‘condemn a little more and understand little less’ when it came to dealing with criminal activity. Such an approach appeared to adhere to the ideological conservative view that adopts a more negative view of human nature.
When Tony Blair was seeking to make New Labour electable from the mid-1990s onwards, he was well aware that Labour’s ‘soft’ image on law and order had cost it votes over recent elections. He therefore developed an approach that was famously described in the run up to the 1997 election as being ‘tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime’, which suggested a tough line against those that committed crime, but which also sought to address the reasons why crime was being committed in the first place. This latter aspect appeared to have been somewhat neglected by the Conservatives during their long period in office. With a typically ambiguous approach, the Blair government gave the police enhanced powers, passed a range of laws that restricted civil liberties and put more people in prison. At the same time the government’s significant investment in public services was aimed at improving people’s living conditions and thus aiming to reduce the tendency to commit crime at the social root of the issue.
While in opposition from 1997 to 2010, the Conservatives criticised New Labour’s approach to law and order as restricting civil liberties (often in the context of anti-terror laws), overburdening the police with paperwork and not providing sufficient prison places. Many on the right of the Conservative Party want to construct additional prisons, but there is some debate as to whether such a policy is an affordable priority for the Conservative government. The Liberal Democrats consistently opposed many of Labour’s anti-terror laws after 2001, along with other policies that they claimed restricted basic individual freedoms, civil liberties and people’s human rights, e.g. the proposals of the last Labour government to introduce ID cards and ‘control orders’ and extend detention without charge.
In this overall context, while there has certainly been a shift in general attitudes to dealing with crime in the UK, there is no clear consensus as to what is the best way of dealing with crime is. The broad change in attitude was initially sparked by the Thatcherite approach in the 1980s and its focus on being tough on criminal activity. While New Labour sought to broadly accept much of this approach, there was also a renewed focus on the causes of crime after 1997. Since 1997 there have been criticisms that Labour have been too authoritarian and tough on this subject and have slavishly followed public opinion at the expense of wider civil liberties. Between 2010 and 2015 there was some evidence that the Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition struggled with the tensions of being tough on crime on the one hand, yet at the same time seeking to bring down the prison population, reducing the costs of law and order (within the context of austerity), and addressing broader public concerns over civil liberties. Ultimately, while a right-of-centre law and order agenda has been followed by the major parties and supported by the media, there do also remain significant areas of policy differences on this subject between the parties, including ongoing ‘liberal’ and rehabilitative tendencies within all of the main parties.
This short essay seeks to clarify the concept and definition of a consensus on the issue of law and
order from the outset. It defines the meaning of consensus and contrasts this with the notion of
distinct and differing viewpoints on this political subject. The answer proceeds to summarise in a clearly structured way how the traditional Labour and Conservative viewpoints have evolved on this issue over the years, effectively summarising key policy trends and political attitudes from the 1960s onwards. It spends some significant focus on events since 1997 in particular and provides useful analysis on New Labour’s original development of this policy area. It charts the development of this policy approach and how opposite political viewpoints have reacted. This includes both Conservative and Liberal Democrat reactions within the recent coalition government, and this ultimately allows the answer to seek a further analysis of whether a consensus on the issue exists within the conclusion.
To what extent did Labour’s economic policies between 1997 and 2010 create more positives or negatives for the coalition government that succeeded it?
On taking office in 1997 after 18 years in opposition, New Labour under Tony Blair was anxious to dispel its past reputation for economic incompetence. Many voters continued to have negative memories of the previous Labour government of the late 1970s, which presided over industrial chaos, rising unemployment and inflation and sought loans from the International Monetary Fund to keep the country afloat in economic terms. Tony Blair and his Chancellor Gordon Brown made it quite clear from the outset that this Labour government had to ensure Labour’s economic competence as a political priority, particularly given that the management of economic policy is a fundamental issue to the vast majority of voters in the UK.
On the whole, the incoming Labour government embraced the majority of the Conservatives' economic reforms and 'neo-liberal' policies of the 1980s, accepting the need to maintain relatively low levels of direct taxation, to keep inflation under control and to intervene in the economy on a much reduced scale compared to past Labour governments. The Conservative privatisation agenda was kept in place, as was the anti-trade union legislation of the 1980s and the banking sector was only lightly regulated. Due to this pragmatic acceptance of the economic revolution over the previous 18 years, it was clear that this Labour government would run the economy in a very different way to previous ones.
Indeed, early economic decisions certainly indicated that the Brown-Blair Labour government would manage the economy differently from previous administrations of both Conservative and Labour. This was evident in the granting of independence to the Bank of England over interest rates, an early initiative of this Labour government that proved to be a general success and a means of ensuring stability and that economic decisions were to be made for long-term economic reasons rather than short-term political ones. Chancellor Brown spoke of the need for ‘prudence’ and economic stability, and he promised an end to the ‘boom and bust’ economics of the past, when economic growth was followed by a significant slump.
On a positive level, there are many indicators that would suggest that for much of the period from 1997 to 2010, the Labour government presided over a period of impressive economic growth with the UK economy performing strongly overall. Unemployment remained historically low for the majority of this period, as did the levels of inflation and interest rates, which for much of the 1980s and 1990s were very volatile. Stable interest rates in particular were a factor in a healthy and thriving housing market. Direct taxation remained low, and the Labour government did not succumb to practices of past Labour administrations by raising such direct taxation to levels that had proved to be electorally unpopular. In addition to such positive domestic factors, global economic conditions were also positive for much of this period, and this added a degree of good fortune to the government’s genuine economic management. Overall, such economic indicators were rewarded with further electoral victories for Labour in 2001 and 2005, with the health of the economy a key factor in many voters’ choice of national government.
In addition, laying such solid economic foundations between 1997 and 1999, Blair’s government adhered to the spending levels of the previous Conservative government, with Blair and Brown seeking to learn lessons from past Labour governments, which had spent public money quickly in their early phases and ran into financial difficulties later on into their terms of office. In this context, the Labour government sought to stabilise the economic situation and consolidate the economy’s strength before pursuing more adventurous spending proposals after being re-elected for a second full term with another large majority in 2001. From 2002 onwards in particular, significant spending increases in public services were recorded year on year, as the Labour government sought to promote investment and created a significant number of public sector jobs in the process. While such investment certainly generated employment and sought to enhance key public services (both crucial aspects of a successful economy), political opponents claimed that such investment was unsustainable and ultimately led to the country’s high levels of national debt and deficit by the time Labour left office in 2010.
Concern was also raised that during the ‘boom years’ of the late 1990s and early twenty-first century, the generally positive economic indicators led to both governments and individual consumers spending beyond their means (creating high levels of both public and private debt). This resulted in the government spending on public services and borrowing money to fund such investment, while individual citizens took out loans and large mortgages on the basis of the economic conditions of the time. Critics highlighted that such growing levels of debt was a reckless and irresponsible approach to financial management that did not contain enough caution and planning about how to handle an economic slowdown and possible recession (which eventually arrived from late 2007 onwards).
Critics of New Labour’s economic management, particularly the Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition that succeeded it, have argued that Labour inherited a ‘golden economic scenario’ from the previous Conservative administration, with the economy already growing and inflation under control when Labour took office in 1997. Such positive economic prospects were further boosted by a buoyant housing market in subsequent years, which generated an enhanced economic ‘feel-good factor’. Having progressively increased both taxation and public spending from 1997 onwards, David Cameron’s Conservatives claimed during both the 2010 and 2015 general election campaigns that Labour spent the nation’s finances in an excessive and wasteful way, accumulating huge levels of borrowing and national debt in the process. Under David Cameron, the Conservatives accused Labour of reverting to Keynesian-style economics of high spending and high taxation, while at the same time not effectively monitoring and regulating the banking sector, which also contributed to the 2007-8 economic crash. Such criticisms also claim that the enhanced levels of spending and additional taxation invested in key public services have not been used efficiently or as effectively as they could have been.
The Conservatives have subsequently adopted a position that since being elected back to office in 2010 they have made what they claim are necessary spending cutbacks and impose a degree of fiscal conservatism in order to bring levels of public spending in the economy under control and restore some financial order after Labour’s own period of ‘boom and bust’. They have also sought to bring down unemployment levels, which had also risen by the time Labour left office in 2010. The Conservatives have argued that Labour’s public spending levels were unsustainable and have contributed to the ‘bust’ and recession that Gordon Brown pledged would never occur under his economic management. However the Conservatives did not pledge to make significant tax cuts prior to 2010, arguing that this might not be feasible given economic conditions if and when they took office. In terms of economic policy, what happened since 2010 was a concerted attempt by the Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition to pursue an ‘austerity agenda’ and to make significant cutbacks in public spending on the basis that Labour left the country’s economy in a poor economic shape. In their defence, the outgoing Labour government highlighted the steady and solid economic growth during the majority of the period since 1997, and compared this favourably with the volatile and difficult economic conditions for significant periods when the Conservatives were in office in the 1980s and 1990s.
There was a major political debate during the last two general elections in particular (2010 and 2015) as to what would be the best way to manage Britain’s economy through a difficult period of economic restraint. Gordon Brown’s Labour government accepted that some spending cutbacks had to be made in due course, but were reluctant to cut too heavily out of fear of damaging economic recovery, particularly in the context of their government’s programme of long-term investment in public services. The Liberal Democrats appeared to also accept that cuts were needed, but not to the extent of the Conservatives, who have consistently argued since approximately 2008 that the scope of state spending and provision needs to be significantly reduced in order to keep the nation’s finances under control. While Labour argued that the economy had been managed effectively and grew for most of the period since 1997, Conservative critics claimed that the economy was pushed to the point of bankruptcy by unsustainable and excessive levels of spending when they returned to power in 2010 (with significant implications for the country’s long-term economic fortunes).This latter narrative has shaped government economic policy both during the life of the coalition government between 2010 and 2015, and also under the Conservatives as a majority administration since 2015.
This long essay adopts a thorough and comprehensive approach in analysing the legacy of Labour’s economic management between 1997 and 2010. The answer adopts a broadly chronological and a well-structured approach by focusing on key economic policies proposed by Labour since 1997, but also makes a number of historical comparisons to past Labour and Conservative governments and their comparative economic performances. The answer addresses key economic developments since 1997 and offers some analysis of how effective they have been, both positive and negative, and offers counter viewpoints primarily from the then Conservative opposition, but also including some Liberal Democrat opposition perspective also, which is evidence of a comprehensive level of analysis and coverage of the question. Such a balance of positives and negatives is vital for a top-grade answer at this level. There are useful policy examples throughout (that always gain extra marks), and there is some good comparative analysis between different governments on the issue of how governments have managed the economy and developed distinct and effective economic policies up to the present day).
To what extent has increased government spending improved the UK welfare state since 1997?
The UK welfare state is a key aspect of modern society that has an influence on the majority of the population at some point or other in their lives, specifically by providing key public services to improve overall ‘welfare’. The Labour government between 1997 and 2010 emphasised from the beginning of its rule that investment in the infrastructure of the UK welfare state was a key priority. Tony Blair even claimed on the eve of the 1997 general election that there were ‘only 24 hours to save the NHS’ as a means of highlighting how under-funded key public services were (according to Labour). This desire for public investment and modernisation in core welfare services such as the NHS, education, pensions and welfare benefits seemed to strike a chord with public opinion in this period and Labour were resoundingly elected to power three times between 1997 and 2005. The identification of improved welfare state investment reflected a wider public feeling that demanded significant further funding in order to improve the standard and performance of key public services. However, whether additional funding always necessarily improves welfare services is a matter of political debate that impacts on all governments of the modern era, including the current Conservative government that has been in office since 2015.
Blair’s comments during the 1997 election campaign were in the context of a growing perception that during the 18 years of Conservative government since 1979, spending on core public services had been reduced to levels that were having a negative impact on provision of services. The 1980s agenda of cutting taxes now seemed to have been replaced by a public mood that sought a new policy direction and an end to such cuts, and instead called for funding to be invested in vital services such as the health and education systems. The Labour government between 1997 and 2010 therefore certainly invested in key public services in a significant way, becoming bolder in its spending as the years progressed following a cautious start. (For its first two years in power, it stuck to spending limits as planned by the previous Conservative government.) However, after the 2001 election in particular, public spending in areas such as health, welfare and education increased at a more ambitious rate, but whether such a spending increase ultimately improved the performance and health of the UK welfare state is open to political debate.
In educational policy, Labour oversaw significant investment in large-scale modernisation of key buildings and facilities (e.g. Building Schools for the Future programme), often using the controversial PFI policy as a source of funding for such projects. This was a factor in improved educational performance targets and the roll-out of a new wave of specialist academies to replace old-style comprehensive schools, with some private investment a controversial element of this policy. Labour also targeted the new policy of the educational maintenance allowance (EMA) from 2004, in order to encourage those from lower incomes to remain in education after the age of 16, while also aiming for the ambitious target of 50% of school leavers to study at university. This suggested that increased spending made a positive impact on transforming the UK’s education system.
However, educational problems have remained despite such investment, and many schools in poorer inner-city areas have continued to struggle and have failed to meet key performance targets, with continuing problems with overall truancy rates. There have been cross-party criticisms of the quality and poor value of PFI funding for new school buildings, while Labour’s introduction of privately funded academies and the maintenance of grammar schools and more autonomous foundation schools angered many of its own party supporters, who view such developments as a continuation of Conservative educational competition, as developed in the 1980s. Such issues have reflected the controversy over seeking to provide more choice within state educational provision. The decision to introduce university tuition fees, top-up fees and to pursue an arguably unrealistic 50% target for 18-year-olds going to university were all been criticised as having an overall negative effect on the higher education sector, including the top-up fees that have accompanied it.
In the health sector, steadily increased public spending under Labour between 1997 and 2010 resulted in patient waiting lists falling, enhanced and modernised buildings and facilities and an improved cure rate for key illnesses such as cancer and heart disease. However, such spending struggled to keep up with the demands of a growing and ageing population, which has placed further demands of new technology and the need for improved facilities. However, a recurring and persistent Conservative criticism of Labour’s welfare policies and spending from 1997–2010 was based on the premise that significant amounts of money was wasted and that many welfare reforms were hampered by excessive levels of bureaucracy. For example, despite spending on the NHS doubling between 2000 and 2010, the Conservatives have claimed that a significant amount of NHS investment was diverted away from frontline services and instead spent on management, external consultants and administrators. This has been in the context of some NHS trusts running into major financial problems, despite such overall spending increases.
In terms of broader ‘social services’ welfare provision, fundamental problems have faced successive governments since the 1990s, and have stemmed from an ageing population and spiralling costs. This has resulted in various attempts to reform the benefits system, largely in tune with a public who wanted those that appeared to be exploiting the welfare system encouraged to find work, and various ‘welfare to work’ schemes such as the New Deal were introduced for this purpose in the late 1990s. However, such reform proved difficult as Labour in office sought to target limited resources to the most needy without appearing to alienate public opinion and making excessive cutbacks that affected larger numbers of people. An overall approach therefore emerged from 1997–2010 in which increased spending on key welfare areas such as pensions and health benefits were coupled with ‘targeting’ additional funding at those who were classed as most in need of further welfare support from the state. In this context, the link with earnings was not increased for the state pension, but many poorer pensioners found themselves better off due to pension credits and the winter fuel allowance. However, there was criticism of such non-universal benefits like ‘targeted’ tax credits as many people argued that they were complicated to claim for and generated excessive levels of inefficient bureaucracy in the process. This resulted in many people not claiming what they were entitled to, and other people claiming too much. In a further, less high-profile part of the welfare state, social housing continued to be in demand, and while successive governments have continued to fund this important sector to varying degrees, the overall ‘bipartisan’ policy direction has appeared to support the transfer of much council housing stock to housing associations. While this has brought in additional funding, much of it has come from the private sector, leading to further allegations of quasi-privatisation of the welfare state.
Given the economic problems encountered by Labour in office from 2007/2008 onwards, the incoming Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition adopted the view that high levels of public spending (and in practice excessive state intervention) needed to be reduced and had not always produced a better level of welfare service provision. Therefore, despite record investment into public services between 1997 and 2010, there has been a mixed reaction as to the extent to which such investment improved the overall performance and health of the UK welfare state. There is no doubt that over 13 years the Labour government invested heavily in welfare areas and also sought to adopt some reforms, but criticism remained that a significant amount of the financial investment did not reach the desired frontline services. There were also criticisms that some ‘targeted’ welfare reforms were complicated and generated too much cost, and that many people failed to claim the financial support to which they were entitled.
The challenges in this policy area have been exacerbated by an ageing population, which generates greater overall demands on the UK welfare state. It has also been the case that while most key aspects of the welfare state, e.g. the NHS, had broad public support, there has remained some wider hostility among the public to those people that are perceived to exploit the benefits system and refuse to work, and many people in regular employment have continuously objected that so much of their taxes fund welfare services predominantly used by others. Such a social, demographic and political scenario has meant that, along with the difficult economic conditions, the post-2010 Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition government had increasingly limited resources to spend on improving the quality of the UK’s welfare provision. On this basis there has been an ‘austerity agenda’ pursued, which has continued under the Conservatives governing alone from 2015. Post-2010 administrations have, therefore, pursued policies that seek to develop a more creative and diverse way of funding and maintaining the welfare state in the long term, e.g. the Big Society agenda, NHS reform, free schools, the welfare cap and universal credit, etc. This reflects a political viewpoint that high levels of public spending are not always the most effective method of supporting a successful welfare state, and that reform must play an equally significant role.
This long essay sets out to tackle a challenging question that focuses on fully measuring and analysing
government performance in a complex and vast policy area over recent years. It begins with a simple
summary of the political significance of the welfare state and of the political context of the perceived condition of this government provision when Labour came to power in 1997. The essay then proceeds in a coherent structure by assessing the various aspects of the broader UK welfare state and assesses the impact of policies affecting these key areas, e.g. pensions, welfare, NHS, etc., during Labour’s thirteen years in office up to 2010, and more recently since the Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition government (from 2010) came to power. As a well-balanced answer, this essay always offers an alternative outlook or criticism of policies that have emerged in this area since 1997, and various good examples are offered throughout to illustrate points made as fully and as effectively as possible. The essay overall offers a fairly concise summary of a vast and complex policy area (effectively so within the strict exam time limits), and always seeks to maintain a balanced approach to answering the question while also offering a broader social dimension to analysing the subject.