How social security works
An introduction to benefits in Britain
- Paul Spicker
- Paperback, 284 pages, 240 x 172 mm
- 19 Jan 2011
£19.19 - List price: £23.99 You save: £4.80
North America customers can order this book here from the University of Chicago Press.
"How Social Security Works is a valuable addition to the literature on social security policy. It will prove to be very useful for introducing students to social security benefits, the ways they are administered and their operation. I would recommend that it is read for these purposes."
The Journal of Social Policy, March 2012
"Overall the book is extensive, clear, accessible and engaging. It is both through provoking and informative and will no doubt be a key text for students and others engaged with the social security system."
Lee Gregory, University of Cardiff
"... a rich source of information ... useful for those who are interested in the general aspects of social security."
European Journal of Social Security
"A comprehensive account of the principles of British social security delivered in bite-sized chunks beloved by students."
Robert Walker, Professor of Social Policy, University of Oxford
About This Book
How social security works is an introduction to the much-misunderstood system of benefits in Britain. The book is an accessible, broadly based and sometimes controversial text which can help readers to make sense of the system in practice. It explains the guiding principles, outlines the social context, considers the development and political dimensions of benefits, and reviews how the system operates now. There are detailed discussions of the types of benefit, and the contingencies covered by the benefits system. Paul Spicker examines whether the system offers value for money, how it could be simplified and how it can be improved. The book will be useful to students on undergraduate and professional courses, but beyond that it will appeal to policy makers, practitioners and a broader general readership.
Author BiographyPaul Spicker is Grampian Chair of Public Policy at the Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen. In 2007 he was a special adviser to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee for their report on the simplification of social security benefits. His previous books with The Policy Press include 'Policy analysis for practice' (2006), 'Liberty, equality, fraternity' (2006), 'The idea of poverty' (2007) and 'Social policy: Themes and approaches' (2008).
Part one: Introductory principles: What is social security?
Social security and the welfare state
Social security and society
Part two: The development of the system: The origins of social security in the UK
The politics of social security
A unified system?
Part three: Benefits: National Insurance
Means tested benefits I: the basic minimum
Means testing II: income supplements
The provision of non-contributory benefits
Part four: The principal contingencies: Pensioners
Benefits for people with disabilities
Children and families
Benefits for the poor
Part five: Issues in social security policy: The cost of social security
Fraud and abuse
Responding to poverty
Social security and redistribution
How social security in Britain compares to other countries.
ReviewsOwn it? Review it!
How social security works
As someone who is not a specialist on social security, but who works with many charities engaging with poverty issues, I found this a really useful introduction to the field.
Of course, as the author acknowledges, there is constant legislative change, but I found it really helpful to understand the rationale for different types of benefits, and indeed the debate on what is an is not regard as social security (especially important in the debates around benefits vs reducing tax).
It sits very effectively between the guides for benefits advisors (which have little on policy and rationale) and some of the complex economics research on tax and benefits which is hard to fit into the wider picture.
I will certainly recommend it for anyone looking at the work of charities established for the relief of poverty - but I am sure it will be useful to students and researchers from many other disciplines.
Reviewed by Gareth Morgan
How social security works
Excellent introduction to understand the architecture of social security in Britain. I found the text particularly useful to introduce undergrad and graduate students to the historical development of the system. Also, the complicated set of benefits are presented in a very clear way following the different target groups (pensioners, children, families, unemployed, lone parents, etc). Finally I found very insightful the discussion of the political and social principles underpinning several benefits. I really learned and enjoyed reading it!!!
Reviewed by Javier Pereira, Professor and researcher at the Department of Sociology and Social Work, Universidad Catolica del Uruguay
How social security works
The aim of this book is ‘to explain the shape of the social security system, to explain how benefits are provided and to give readers an understanding of the key issues’ (p. ix). These aims are definitely achieved. The breadth of the topics covered is impressive: They reach from communicating the principles and debates around central concepts in social security, to different types of benefits, how they are administrated and finally the main groups of recipients. The author does an excellent job in drawing out the key debates and further references. The particular strengths of the book are that it discusses both principles and mechanisms of social security, that it is easy to understand and contains very useful references for further reading. Best of all though is the way in which comparisons with other countries and debates over the past decades have been weaved into the discussion of the principles of social security as it highlights the unique but temporal interpretation of social security in Britain today. The section outlining the development of social security over the past two centuries is perhaps not as strong as the other sections. However, this is a small quibble about an otherwise excellent book. Altogether, this is a very good introduction to social policy for students and anyone interested in the subject and as such much needed at a time when fundamental changes to social security are being considered and implemented.
Reviewed by Tina Haux
How social security works
'How Social Security Works' offers a considered and comprehensive introduction to the UK’s social security system. This book focuses upon providing the reader with an understanding of what social security benefits do, how they achieve this and how they all fit together. As such it does not seek to discuss issues of welfare rights. Rather it provides a clear and coherent understanding of how the system itself operates and the underlying principles which have informed its development.
The book sets out to explore key aspects of social security. It starts with an exploration of the principles of social security before considering its development; the types of benefits; and the principal recipients of benefits before concluding with a discussion of key issues. Whilst at first glace the list of twenty seven chapters may seem daunting, each chapter is written in a bite-size format which is beneficial to readers, especially those new to the subject. This review will consider parts 1, 3, 4 and 5 of the book (the book had a total of five sections) which I felt offered the most to readers.
Perhaps the greatest advantage of the text lies is the author’s general approach to the topic. By focusing on the workings of the system the opening chapter brings to the forefront the purpose of social security. This challenges the assumption that poverty relief is the core purpose by showing multiple reasons as to why a social security system may be developed. This opening chapter will be important for students wishing to familiarize themselves with a broader understanding of the topic. Part one of the book also contains a discussion on universality, selectivity and rights and citizenship (chapter two) and the way in which notions of work, family and nation have shaped benefit provision (chapter three). This latter discussion is rarely overtly considered in many texts on this topic, yet it provides a powerful exploration of how certain ideas and assumptions underpin social security provision (and, one could argue, underpins the critique of the welfare state from feminist and race/ethnicity standpoints).
In part three, Spicker provides an insight in to how the different approaches to benefit provision work in practice by examining the mechanism themselves: national insurance, means-testing, non-contributory, etc. In writing these chapters the author maintains a balance between providing necessary details and arguments for and against the mechanisms, alongside an account of the development of specific benefits which illustrate each approach. The reader is therefore provided not only with a detailed account of how specific benefits operate but also a historical overview of the practice and development of the social security system as a whole.
Part four considers principal contingencies: the situations in which dependency on social security is likely. Whilst some may criticise Spicker for not focusing on specific categories such as gender or race/ethnicity, his argument is that social security has not been designed specifically for these groups: and his focus is on the workings of the system and therefore those groups of people at which it is aimed. As such an exploration of the benefits system must consider provisions made available: thus pensioners, children and lone parents are all the topic of a chapter. Interestingly Spicker separates disability and incapacity – two issues which are often considered one and the same. This separation is an important distinction for students to recognize.
The final part of the book conducts a policy analysis of social security, exploring its effectiveness in relation to a number of issues (targeting, cost, poverty). Here the chapter on fraud and abuse stands out, for it provides a clear analysis of those issues which are often fed to the public as half-truths by the media (and often distorting students’ views with bias before they truly consider the issue). As a result, the chapter provides another set of useful insights into the reality of social security provision.
Overall the book is very accessible. Its clear and well structured approach often maintains a number of threads and discussions between chapters to illustrate debates and tensions that run through the system. This can be seen particularly in the discussions of lone parents and the cohabitation benefit rules. Spicker’s commentary often points to the common sense understanding of people’s situations that the social security system often lacks. Additionally Spicker often compares the UK system to other systems globally – illustrating where there are differences in provision but also shared understandings and even the source of some of the concepts we readily use i.e. social exclusion. Readers will also find beneficial the timeline diagrams which depict the changes to benefit provision over time.
Whilst the book provides a complete review of the social security system it does not pay much attention to devolution. Admittedly, at first, this may seem an obvious omission as neither Scotland nor Wales have powers over social security. This however is not the case with Northern Ireland which, at least in theory if not in practice, can develop a different social security system to the UK: some mention of this would have perhaps added to the comparative nature of the discussion.
Overall the book is extensive, clear, accessible and engaging. It is both through provoking and informative and will no doubt be a key text for students and others engaged with the social security system.
Reviewed by Lee Gregory
How social security works
This book gives an insight into social security that is not generally provided in a text about welfare benefits or social policy. It will give students of social policy a valuable understanding of the background and structure of the benefits system, and, for students of welfare benefits, it will provide a critical analysis of social security provision in the UK.
The explanation of welfare benefits is comprehensive and easy to understand. The book discusses the history and development of the current system, basic principles and models of welfare, the purpose of welfare, and the methods of provision.
The book touches on topical issues such as welfare dependency, conditionality, and benefits for people from abroad. Other key issues include pension sustainability, child poverty, social exclusion, benefits for lone parents, the cohabitation rule, and child support.
The current benefit system, and the underlying policies, are critically evaluated, and suggestions for improvement are given.
Although the benefit system is subject to constant change, and more of the benefits described are likely to be abolished by the present government, the book provides an understanding of the context within which these changes will take place.
Reviewed by Helen Robson
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