Welfare In the Wake of Austerity: Contesting Deservingness and Experiences of Welfare
This article explores changes to welfare system through the period of austerity starting in 2009, highlighting how divisions between ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ populations have been re-entrenched, and the implications this has for intervening in inequality in the UK. Although then-chancellor Sajid Javid claimed in 2019 that austerity had ‘ended’ (Jordan 2019), the same policies implemented under austerity remain in place, leaving us in the wake of austerity. This is to acknowledge that ‘dismantled social protections are not re-assembled by the naming of an end’, and the naming of austerity as ‘over’ creates an ‘absence-presence’ to austerity making it more difficult to focus on and contend with the current impacts of welfare policy and practice (Hitchin and Raynor 2020, 186). Other articles in this issue have considered Beveridge’s insights in light of social changes, whether in reframing his ‘five giants’ as ‘five goods’ or in understanding volunteerism in the contemporary context. I suggest that in reflecting on possibilities of a ‘new Beveridge’, we need to understand the impact of austerity both on the functioning of the welfare system, and how welfare and welfare recipients have been portrayed during and in the wake of austerity. The deserving/undeserving dichotomy is not new, nor is the Christian ethical impulse to resist; yet the dichotomy remains pervasive, even as deservingness has been reshaped under austerity. Welfare is entangled in broader social understandings of disability, gender, work, family, fairness, and responsibility, to name but a few. These are all critical theological issues and as such, alongside the role of churches in historical and contemporary in welfare provision, it might be assumed that churches and theologians are well-placed to speak on and challenge issues of welfare. Yet, if new proposals surrounding welfare and society are to be developed in Christian ethics, it is necessary to reflect on how assumptions surrounding these issues also influence who is thought of as ‘well placed’ to speak on welfare. Whose experience and knowledge of welfare and society matters as theological praxis continues to be shaped in these areas?