My final academic publication is a contribution to a book coming out in June 2019 edited by Scott Greer and Heather Elliott, at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Federalism and Social Policy: Patterns of Redistribution in 11 Democracies is an attempt to explore how welfare states actually work in federal and decentralised states, what sorts of redistribution they do and how effectively, and whether and how much there are different welfare regimes at sub-state or regional level. This comes from the chapter about the UK, which looks at how devolution is financed, and the working of policies relating to under-19 education, health services and pensions. It should be a significant contribution to the academic literatures about both comparative federalism and comparative welfare states. Details of the book can be found here.
What appears below is an extract from the conclusion, about the impact of Brexit on the welfare state. There has been much speculation about the sort of country that a post-Brexit UK may be, and some discussion, mostly short-term and very pragmatic, about the impact of Brexit on social policy, such as labour market problems affecting the NHS or social care. It seems to me, though, that the divisions of the Brexit vote and its likely economic effects will have a grave effect on the future of a redistributive welfare state – generally, not just in territorial terms (though it has territorial dimensions too). Due to space constraints and the fact this was a comparative project, not particularly concerned with Brexit or the UK, it’s rather brief and under-developed, but nonetheless is worth wider and earlier circulation than the published book permits. This section was drafted early in 2018, but nothing that has happened since changes what I wrote then – indeed, the only change is that I would now probably put it more forcefully.
Far more important are the effects of the UK’s vote to leave the European Union in June 2016, with departure to take effect in March 2019. The significance of the Brexit vote can hardly be understated and is likely to reshape the UK in the years to come. Its significance has three dimensions.
First, there is the deep social cleavage that the vote to leave the EU revealed, and which has deepened since the vote. At least in England and Wales (which both voted by majorities to leave), ‘Leave’ voters were generally older (age 49 or older), less well-off and from less well-off parts of the UK, particularly smaller towns that were badly affected by de-industrialisation. ‘Remain’ voters were younger, better off and lived mainly in larger cities. (60 per cent of voters in London voted Remain; only slightly smaller a percentage in the West Midlands voted Leave.) To a substantial degree, this was a vote by the losers from globalisation against the relative winners. Since those ‘winners’ are also the most economically productive members of British society, who generate the income that is redistributed to those ‘losers’ in the form of public services and welfare benefits for which their taxes cannot pay, there has to be a question in the longer term of why they should continue to do so. This goes to the heart of the social basis for redistribution through public services and taxation. Add to this the difficulties younger people face, with very high housing costs, large levels of graduate debt, and limited occupational opportunities compared to their parents’ or grandparents’ generations in an economy that is growing more slowly than in the past. If, as many expect, leaving the EU adversely affects the British economy for some time to come, these difficulties will be further compounded. Younger people, faced with increasing difficulties, are likely to be more and more unwilling to see their stretched incomes taxed to pay for those who have made them worse not better off.