On April 4, AEI hosted the Rt. Honorable Iain Duncan Smith, Member of Parliament and former secretary of state for work and pensions, to discuss UK welfare reforms. He described the old UK welfare system, which trapped those in poverty in a cycle of dependency. The government had focused on the arbitrary poverty line, not the real outcomes of welfare recipients. He explained how the UK government streamlined benefits and oriented recipients and administrators toward personal responsibility and work, which lowered dependency, improved labor force attachment, and raised labor force participation and employment. He compared the current US safety net and the pre-reformed UK system and suggested reforms, such as social insurance bonds and increasing work requirements and support, asserting that compassionate reform will help the needy and save the government money.
Brookings Institution’s Richard V. Reeves praised the compassionate conservatism shown by Mr. Duncan Smith amid budgetary pressures. New York University’s Lawrence M. Mead commended the reforms’ ability to align rights and obligations, creating a system in which individuals gain freedom through personal responsibility and discipline. AEI’s Robert Doar highlighted how correctly implemented government policies can benefit society. Lastly, the panel debated issues such as paternalism in government and the cultural and behavioral effects of policy design.
–Kyle Craft and Emily Stearns
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With the overall employment rate for prime-working-age Americans still well below its year 2000 peak, policymakers are looking for reforms that could increase work, including reforms to safety net programs. Recent changes to disability and means-tested assistance programs in the UK offer one example of work-focused reforms that some analysts point to as a model. What were those reforms, and were they successful? Should the US pursue a similar course?
Join AEI as Iain Duncan Smith MP, one of the chief architects of welfare reform in the UK, analyzes those reforms and their relevance for US policy.
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Robert Doar, AEI
Rt. Hon. Iain Duncan Smith, Member of Parliament
Responses and discussion
Robert Doar, AEI
Lawrence M. Mead, New York University
Richard V. Reeves, Brookings Institution
Rt. Hon. Iain Duncan Smith, Member of Parliament
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Robert Doar is the Morgridge Fellow in Poverty Studies at AEI, where he studies and evaluates how free enterprise and improved federal policies and programs can reduce poverty and provide opportunities for vulnerable Americans. Before joining AEI, Mr. Doar worked for Mayor Michael Bloomberg as commissioner of New York City’s Human Resources Administration, where he administered 12 public assistance programs, including welfare, food assistance, public health insurance, and help for people living with HIV/AIDS. Before joining the Bloomberg administration, Mr. Doar was New York State commissioner of social services, helping make New York a model for the implementation of welfare reform.
Lawrence M. Mead is a professor of politics and public policy at New York University. Known as one of the theoretical architects of welfare reform in the 1990s, Dr. Mead has written several influential books in which he demonstrates that mandatory work requirements are essential to sound welfare policy. In his latest book, “Expanding Work Programs for Poor Men” (AEI Press, 2011), he explains that poor fathers, like welfare mothers, not only need better benefits but also must be expected and required to work regularly. His other books include “From Prophecy to Charity: How to Help the Poor” (AEI Press, 2011), “Welfare Reform and Political Theory” (Russell Sage Foundation, 2005), “Beyond Entitlement: The Social Obligations of Citizenship” (The Free Press, 2001), “The New Paternalism: Supervisory Approaches to Poverty” (Brookings, 1997), and “The New Politics of Poverty: The Nonworking Poor in America” (Basic Books, 1992).
Richard V. Reeves is a senior fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution, where he is also policy director of the Center on Children and Families and editor-in-chief of the Social Mobility Memos blog. His research focuses on social mobility, inequality, and family change. Before joining Brookings, he was director of strategy to the United Kingdom’s deputy prime minister. He has worked in various roles at several UK-based think tanks, including director of Demos, director of futures at the Work Foundation, and research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research. Dr. Reeves has also served as principal policy adviser to the UK minister for welfare reform and researcher at the Institute of Psychiatry, University of London.
Rt. Hon. Iain Duncan Smith was elected Member of Parliament for Chingford in 1992, and he was reelected in 1997 as Member of Parliament for the redrawn constituency of Chingford and Woodford Green. He was educated at Dunchurch College of Management, the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, the Universita per Stranieri in Perugia, and HMS Conway in Anglesey. As part of the Scots Guards, he saw active service in Northern Ireland and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and served in Canada and Germany. He later worked for GEC-Marconi, a defense company, and Bellwinch, a property company. He has also been on the board of Jane’s Information Group, a publishing company. He was promoted to William Hague’s Shadow Cabinet in 1997. As shadow secretary of state for Social Security, Mr. Duncan Smith exposed the Labour Party’s hypocrisy and failure on welfare reform. When he was promoted to shadow defence secretary, he exposed the government’s failure to give British forces sufficient funding and equipment. In 2001, he was elected leader of the Conservative Party. After stepping down in 2003, he set up the Centre for Social Justice, an independent think tank committed to tackling poverty and social breakdown, where he was the chairman until his appointment to be secretary of state for work and pensions. He served in this position until March 2016. He remains the Member of Parliament for Chingford and Woodford Green.