What is distinctive about New Labour’s view of the welfare state and what has been its impact?

When the New Labour government rose to power in 1997, it was expected of it to engineer a more egalitarian society.  A British society where the elderly will not be abandoned, the poor not neglected, etc.  Now into its third term in power, the party’s promises to the underprivileged sections of society remains largely unfulfilled.  To the contrary, the decade under the leadership of Tony Blair is disparagingly described by political commentators as “a Thatcherite mix of more privatization and flexible labour markets, with a few nods in the direction of social justice” (Bevir & O’Brien, D. 2003).  The following passages will attempt to show why such an assessment is not correct, and that not only is New Labour policy framework theoretically different, but has also fetched impressive results.

Going by policy initiatives of the New Labour government, it is certain that it took a new direction, away from the conservative agenda of the Thatcher years.  Gordon Brown, even in his period as the deputy to Tony Blair had advocated positive reforms in the two most important social welfare issues, namely poverty alleviation and unemployment minimization.  Brown argued then, and continues to believe now, that economic stability and sustained growth are the crucial factors to social policy. In fact, the fons et origo of the party is the idea that social welfare is as important as economic dynamism and job creation.  The New Labour leadership argued that “the realisation of “human potential” and the ability of individuals to make the most of their capabilities was it possible to move towards greater equality” (Sim, 2000).  Consistent with such a political agenda, the New Labour government had initiated several social welfare programmes, including “the child tax credit, working tax credit and pension credit; the minimum wage and the New Deal; the child trust fund and child benefit increases; Sure Start and the childcare tax credit; education action zones and a veritable maze of other programmes directed at deprived areas; large-scale investment in public services–the list goes on and on” (Pirie, 1999).

So, quite contrary to criticism from analysts and journalists, the policies of the Labour government over the last decade have been in keeping with the party’s founding ideals – a distinctive break from the policy framework of the Tories.  The parameters that ascertain the degree of social policy success have all been quite positive under New Labour.  Before the current downturn in global economy took effect, the unemployment rate was very low, with more than three fourths of adults inBritain working in full-time jobs.  Pensions for the elderly have also seen significant improvements.  The overall poverty levels have also fallen in this period.  For example, as of 2002-2003, “the numbers living below 60 per cent of national median income–the standard EU measure of poverty–had fallen by about 1.5 million” (Bevir & O’Brien, D. 2003).  These figures indicate the distinctive approach adopted by New Labour in the area of social justice and social welfare.  In light of all these facts, it is quite evident that the New Labour government has rejuvenated the social dynamics of the state and terming its policies as promoting “nanny-state”Britain does not accurately represents its achievements in the last decade.


Bevir, M., & O’Brien, D. (2003). New Labour and the Public Sector in Britain. Public Administration Review, 61(5), 535.

Fine, M. (2004). Partnerships, New Labour and the Governance of Welfare. Journal of Sociology, 40(2), 194+.

Giddens, A. (2004, September 27). ‘We Can and Should Take Action If the Earnings of the Rich Set Them Apart from Society’: Anthony Giddens Argues That New Labour Needs to Embrace a New Egalitarianism If It Is to Take Further Its Commitment to Social Justice. Unlike the Old Notion of Equality, It Would Reject Totemic Gestures Such as Raising Income Tax Rates. New Statesman, 133, 50+.

Pirie, M. (1999, May). New Labour Seems to Be a Subtle Mix of Thatcherism, Compassion and Concealed Taxes. World and I, 14, 36.

Sim, J. (2000). “One Thousand Days of Degradation”: New Labour and Old Compromises at the Turn of the Century [1]. Social Justice, 27(2), 168.