New Labour Social Policy Essay

When Prime Minister Tony Blair termed his version of social democracy as the “Third Way” or the “New Labour” cynics scoffed at it as old wine in new bottle and to a large extent, it happened to be so. The author of the pamphlet, Patrick Harrington had formed a party called “Third Way” in 1990, and the name stuck. The new social policy approach was supposed to revolutionize every bit of society, and tackle problems like long-term unemployment, lone parents, raising employment rates, stemming the growth of child poverty, streamlining voluntary employment programme etc. It pledged to remove barriers at work, and bring in New Deal for Lone Parents, and modernize National Childcare strategy. Disadvantages faced by the disabled people had to be reduced to the barest minimum by reforming disability related benefits. Employment rate was expected to be increased and range of policies were to address the problems of older workers. New Labour has faced many criticisms about its approach and functioning style.

Long period of opposition from 1979 to 1997 had forced Labour to come out with important policy measures, linking duties with rights. Services are largely financed by the State and work is central to the Third Way.Women’s claims of equality and difference both are honoured. There are sincere attempts to accommodate feminists’ approaches, and challenges connected to races and ethnicity. Welfare State is considered to be the spearhead of all social, cultural and personal issues. Sometimes this creates confusion with their position as both clients and providers. New relationships are analysed and efforts are being made to solve complicated issues. Concept of dependence and issues like paid and unpaid workers in the society are slowly getting new definitions.

Race related problems, conflicts of minority ethnic communities; their social issues have all been connected with the Welfare State today. Culture, nationhood, citizenship, nationality have become social problems. In the centre of it all is the contemporary shifts of nation, welfare and even family and they have gained the maximum importance. These are the areas where Marx’s Theory would differ. Social issues, culture and racial differences have no place in Marx’s society. Religion is unrecognised and importance to diversity is unknown. Social Policies, connected with the political process, pluralism, elitism, economic determinism and institutionalism are unknown to Marx ideology.

Class analysis can be traced back to theorists like Marx and Weber. Marx’s notion of ownership and control of property had been entirely different from the welfare state of Britain. There are major flaws in the application of social policy by the New Labour if Karl Marx’s theory has to be taken into account. Marx and Marxists had called for the abolition of the capitalist state if socialism was to be achieved. New Labour social policy is still connected to the capitalist state. Social democracy formed the common-sense politics of policy development in social and economic sphere. Creation of a welfare state under Marx’s ideologies had been very different from the British Welfare state under New Labour.

In Marxian terms class is determined by relations in the workplace and British workplace is yet to acquire that kind of exalted position. Under Communism working class rules the land. In British society, working class is the class that depends on selling their labour power for subsistence. Analysing the present British society from the Marxist standpoint brings out many flaws in the Third Way policies. Marxists theorists argue that welfare state could also fulfil the function of capitalism by creating an able workforce and at the same time, controlling the state and establishing peace.

British Social Policy is in loggerheads with Marx where poverty, inequality and income inequality are concerned. Broad social policy areas in Britain had been employment, education, and political participation and particular target groups are poor neighbourhoods, children in the early years, and services for older people and longer-term prospects for pensioner incomes, ethnic inequalities, and vulnerable groups. Evidence from international comparisons had not been highly favourable to UK.

Low-income neighbourhoods had been extremely slow in changing and do not reflect Marx’s theory of uniform society. Problems and gaps in child poverty had been persisting and have proved extremely difficult to overcome. Working age poverty, in spite of many targeting policies, had been a gritty area to tackle. The Social Policy had been unable to provide employment to all eligible aged people of the country and there could be many reasons for this failure. But from the Marxist point of view, it is definitely a major inadequacy. Economic inactivity especially among prime-age men had been a worrying factor, and this according to Marx, should be non-existent.

Another area where discrepancy exists is the pension and its linkage with prices. Children’s bad performance in education had been continuing and most reach the age of 16 without any grade acquired. Social policy had not been highly successful in this field. Social class differences have continued over the years. Again dissimilarity between qualification and hence, between jobs naturally would create inequalities in the society and there is no escape from it. Social policies have been a challenge depending now on delivery and implementation. Welfare State has fallen short from attaining the totalitarian pluralism. Driving policies down onto lower levels has proved tougher than anticipated.

Incomes and earnings at the very top continue to increase faster than others, leaving the bottom groups far behind paving way to criticism. Employment, targets and policies have not been as effective as in a Marxist State. New Deal programmes particularly for young people have fallen short of expectation, although a lot of money has gone into it. No doubt, registered unemployment has fallen and long-term unemployment has reduced. Accountability, supposed to be a key factor in Marxism, had not found a strong foothold in the resultant Communism, unlike in New Labour.

Over decades it is noticed how impossible it could be to assume that people can sustain co-operative working and be free from acquisitive individualism. It had never been easy to actually create a complete and continuous society under Marxist principles without employing force. This had been the reason why every communist country had been a camouflaged dictatorship. Even though Marx did not show preference for brutal force his followers found themselves using it to retain power. Marx did not know capitalism would adapt ways of ushering in welfare system. Today companies are managed by institutions and people who are not actual owners. Marx had no way of predicting the rise of middle class either. Tony Blair had pointed out that his love for communitarian themes stems from John Macmurray’s influence.


  • Peter Alcock et al, ed. The Student’s Companion to Social Policy (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers), 2003.

  • Cliff Alcock et al, Introducing Social Policy, (Harlow: Pearson Education Limited), 2004.

  • John Hills and Kitty Stewart, eds. A More Equal Society? (University of Bristol), 2005.

  • Martin Powell, ed., New Labour, New Welfare State? (University of Bristol), 1999.

  • Ruth Levitas, The Inclusive Society? Social Exclusion and New Labour, (Hampshire: Macmillan Press Limited), 1998.

  • Kathleen Jones, The Making of Social Policy in Britain, 3rd ed., ((London: The Athlone Press), 2000.

  • Caroline Glindenning, et al, ed., Partnership, New Labour And the Governance of Welfare, (Bristol: Policy Press), 2002.

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