Kerris Cooper and John Hills
Published 23 February 2021
This paper uses the Social Policies and Distributional Outcomes framework to evaluate how social security policies evolved, how public spending changed, the effects of these on the generosity of the system, and evidence of key outcomes in the areas that social security is intended to address, as well as evidence related to one of the main structural reforms to social security in the last decade – the rollout of Universal Credit. The main focus is on the period of the Conservative governments from 2015 until 2019, but this is set in the context of their legacies from the preceding Labour and Coalition governments and is concluded by looking at the challenges the system already faced in the 2020s before the Coronavirus crisis. Within ‘social security’ the paper covers spending on cash benefits run by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and tax credits that have been run by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), including payments for those above as well as below pension age. The analysis tells the story of why the social security system in place on the eve of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020 took the form that it did, and of how well-placed it was to cope with what turned out to be the greatest shock to British living standards since the Second World War.