Simon Wilson on social investment

Simon Wilson writes:

For several years now English has been driving a profound reform programme in the delivery of social services. It’s far from finished; in fact, even some of the ministers involved seem barely to understand it. But welfare reform is happening. And at its heart is a thoroughly 21st century idea: we’ve got the data, now to tell us where to spend the money.

Conservative governments worldwide are watching, fascinated, not least because social investment inverts the usual conservative approach to welfare. Which is to sit back, moan about bludgers and pick up the pieces when they have to. Social investment, as English told the conference, means “spending money now to save money later”. In National terms, it’s practically a revolution.

Good to see Simon has realised what a change this is. The goal is still the same – to have fewer people reliant on the state, but the method is to spend more now to help them become independent.

Social investment presents a serious challenge to the centre-left – to the Greens as well as Labour. This is the National-led government doing nothing less than redefining the paradigm of the welfare state, not by undermining it but by making it more fit for purpose. That’s the left’s job, or it used to be. It used to be a central purpose of the left in government.

And yet it’s the right that now offers a systematic, determined and evidence-based effort to break inter-generational cycles of poverty, crime and ill-health. Welfare that is both more effective and more affordable. Who would be opposed to that?


And mark what it means: welfare is here to stay. Its purpose, now, is to produce citizens who will stay in work, out of jail, out of hospital and away from the need for expensive long-term care. Yes, the irony is staggering – the National government is engaged in a level of “social engineering” unprecedented in history. But forget about that. The goals are excellent.

High praise from the former Marxist 🙂

Social investment has the potential to be so constructively powerful that if National gets it right, it could stay in government for another generation.

The article goes on to detail some of the ways he thinks National isn’t getting it right, but he concludes:

There are many on the centre-left who say it can’t be done. Social investment is another neoliberal plot, all that tired old hogwash. If they’re right, we need to hear an alternative and more compelling narrative for welfare.

But are they right? Social investment, to repeat, is the means by which many more of our most-marginalised citizens will be able to hold down jobs, stay out of jail and out of hospital and away from the need for expensive long-term care. It offers a systematic, determined and evidence-based effort to break intergenerational cycles of poverty, crime and ill-health. A welfare state that is fit for purpose in the 21st century: both more effective than the 20th-century version and more affordable.

Its champion, when it works, will truly earn the right to be the natural party of government. Do either or both of Labour and the Greens want that role?

They both seem very unenthusiastic on it. I’m not sure they want to reduce the number of people dependent on the state.

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