The Coalition and Universalism

Andrew Harrop


The coalition government’s policies to restrict the coverage of  universal services and welfare payments have been very controversial, in part because they raise questions about the fundamental nature of the British welfare state. Universalism matters for poverty prevention because it generates majority public support for welfare spending, sustaining generous provision over time and aligning the interests of low, middle and high income groups.

This report analyses data from the 1970s to the 1990s for 11 OECD nations and shows that, counter-intuitively, welfare systems which are tightly targeted to low income groups tend to reduce poverty less. A system’s success in poverty reduction is instead related to the overall amount of expenditure. So the inefficiency of universal systems from a poverty-reduction perspective is more than offset by the higher expenditure they typically secure because of their wider public support.

This research forms part of the Fabian Society project ‘Fighting Poverty and Inequality in an Age of Affluence’, made possible by support from the Webb Memorial Trust.

You can buy a printed copy edition of ”The Coalition and Universalism” for £5, plus £1 p+p, by phoning the Fabian Society bookshop on 020 7227 4900, emailing us at [email protected] or send a cheque payable to “The Fabian Society” to 11 Dartmouth Street, London, SW1H 9BN.

You can receive this publication free if you join the Fabian Society today. Once you become a member, you’ll receive two free pamphlets immediately and will get a copy of the Fabian Review magazine and our latest pamphlet every quarter. Click here to find out more about joining the Fabian Society.

Click cover to view PDF


Supported by: