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The Shifting Balance of Private and Public Welfare Activity in the United Kingdom, 1979 to 2007
Daniel Edmiston
December 2011
Paper No' CASE/155:
Full Paper (pdf)

JEL Classification: H55

Tags: private provision; public provision; welfare system; public expenditure; health; education; social security; housing; personal care

The balance between private and public sectors in welfare activity in the UK has been documented by Burchardt (1997) and Smithies (2005) for three time periods; 1979/1980, 1995/1996 and 1999/2000. The existing evidence suggested that a welfare mix has previously been in existence but that the balance had been shifting. This paper explores this phenomenon by updating the existing evidence with a snapshot of the welfare mix in 2007/2008 across five different welfare sectors: Education, Health, Housing, Income Maintenance and Social Security and Personal Social Services. The paper systematically explores who finances, controls and delivers services in each of these five welfare sectors. Over the 29 year period, there has been a gradual increase in the proportion of welfare activity that is privately financed, controlled and delivered, and a gradual decrease in the proportion of welfare activity that is publicly financed, controlled and delivered. The most significant change is the proportion of services that are contracted-out, and the majority of this change generally occurred prior to 1995/96; since then changes have been much more slight and nuanced. Interestingly, the most significant growth in total welfare activity as a proportion of GDP occurred between 1979 and 1996, and Pure Private activity only accounted for part of this.