The restructured welfare system used language which reinforced its new aims, referring to the ‘welfare consumer’; a shift in emphasis from welfare recipient to choice-maker. The emphasis on individual’s rights including the right to own property, encouraged by Mrs. Thatcher’s ‘Right To Buy’ scheme, laid the foundations for the welfare state to be seen as an ‘enabler’ to empower users of the system to help themselves; the notion of a ‘hand up’ rather than a ‘hand out’. The aims of liberalism live on, to a large extent, in Blair’s ‘Third Way’ politics.
His Government’s ‘New Deal’ with its emphasis on enabling everyone to be able to work reduces the burden on the welfare state. In the same way that we have seen dramatic changes in terms of work and welfare in the last fifty years, family life has also altered notably. The traditional patriarchal, nuclear family of the 1950’s has diversified. The rise of the feminist movement, which criticised social democracy because of its support for patriarchy, and the changes to the divorce law, provided the impetus for social change. Furthermore, the former Weberian patriarchal power structures within families became less relevant.
The Divorce Reform Act of 1971 with the notion of “an irretrievable breakdown of marriage” replacing the previous need to apportion blame, enabled women, who were the chief petitioners (today 70% of divorces are instigated by women) (Hughes and Fergusson, 2004, p55), to make choices which previously would have been unavailable. Coupled with the advent of flexible working and the rise of service sector employment, women were able to work outside the home. Moreover, under liberalism a diversification of family forms became increasingly acceptable.
Single parent families, re-constituted families made up of previous marriages, single sex relationships, childless couples (by choice) and people living alone all became acceptable social units with a more diverse and varied population, enjoying more equal power relations than the traditional patriarchal unit permitted. Not all saw this as a beneficial change, however. The move away from the traditional nuclear family structure may be a cause of increased criminality. David Farrington’s longitudinal study which considered whether ‘problem families’ are the reason for increased crime rates made this case.
Farrington identified ‘poor parenting’ and a troubled family life as the start of criminal careers for some (Mooney, Kelly, Goldblatt and Hughes, 2004, p31). To a large extent the significance of these changes to work, welfare and family life depend on your position within society. The same change may provide some people with greater diversity, more agency and they may prosper, while others find the new structures limiting, leaving them only uncertainty. According to Anthony Giddens, (Woodward, 2004, p24) the dramatic change in employment trends created uncertainty and diversity in the move from manufacturing to service based industry.
Opportunities have been created for many, especially women, but have contracted in traditional male-dominated industries. The significance of the neo-liberal political ideology and resulting free-market economy is considerable and has resulted in the advent of the consumer age. This change from production to consumption is also represented by ‘Fordism’ and ‘Post Fordism (Goldblatt, 2004, p 136), Fordism refers to the post WW2 change in emphasis in social science from a Marxist perspective concerned with ownership and control of the means of production to one of consumption, based on Henry Ford’s mass production methods.
Ford recognised the importance of his workers also becoming consumers of his product with requisite need for sufficient wealth and leisure time. Postfordism, in line with Hayek’s free market economy, reflects the needs of the consumer society and makes use of the new more flexible computerised technology. As a result of these social changes, there are clearly winners and losers.
Structural inequalities in the UK have increased in the last fifty years, if we look at Jan Pen’s vividly described ‘Income Parade’ from 1994 (Woodward, 2004, p88) we will see that 62% of the population live on less than average income and figures from the DSS (Woodward, 2004, p91) demonstrate that during the 1980’s and 90’s distribution of wealth became increasingly polarised, with the affluent consolidating their wealth and the poor becoming poorer. In actual terms, however, the overall wealth of the UK population has increased. In the fifty years since the 1950’s, our general standard of living has improved markedly.
Our homes are filled with consumer durables and we take foreign holidays, for example. In terms of winners and losers, clearly the likes of John Greaves would be considered to be a loser from the social changes taking place. A job for life was the promise, the scrapheap was the result. The rise of feminism for women, with the advent of service-sector employment and flexible working options has meant greater diversity and today a far higher proportion of women work than was the case fifty years ago (Woodward, 2004). In social terms, the changes to family structure have meant for most people a more tolerant and more accepting society.
Fifty years ago it would have been impossible to live openly in a same sex relationship; indeed, social mores apart, the structure of the welfare state favoured and advocated the traditional nuclear family. In conclusion, we have considered the major economic, political and social changes affecting work, welfare and family life in the last fifty years in the UK. Interlinked, the change in political ideology from Social Democracy to Neo-liberalism was driven by the economic position which changed from supply based Keynesian Demand Management, to a demand-based free market economy.
Social diversity and agency was one of the results of these changes. We have seen that these changes have been significant and that there have been clear winners and losers as a result of them; women have gained greater opportunities through flexible working and more diverse family structures; traditional male roles have faired less well. Overall, the economic change from the mythical ‘golden age’ of the 1950’s to the consumer age of now, has brought greater prosperity in actual terms although structurally inequalities have increased in this period. (1634 words)
References: Woodward, K. (2004) Questioning Identity: Gender, Class, Ethnicity. London, Routledge/ Milton Keynes, The Open University. Hughes, G. and Fergusson R. (2004) Ordering Lives: Family, Work and Welfare. London, Routledge/ Milton Keynes, The Open University. Mooney, G. ,Kelly, R. ,Goldblatt, D. ,and Hughes, G. (2004) Tales of Fear and Fascination: The Crime Problem in the Contemporary UK. Milton Keynes, The Open University. Goldblatt, D. (2004) Knowledge and the Social Sciences: Theory, Method, Practice. London/Routledge/ Milton Keynes, The Open University.