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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

Taking responsibility: A fair welfare contract

This chapter delivers a sense of what a fair welfare contract might look like - and what it would take to achieve one. It begins by considering the different terms in which we might think about a fair welfare contract, and what we consider to be the best interpretation of them. It then goes on to explore what sort of responsibilities individuals, the state and civil society can plausibly be said to have under a fair welfare contract, before offering some thoughts on what this means in practice.

The concept of 'rights and responsibilities' is now firmly entrenched in debates about welfare policy and is most obviously associated with arguments about benefit conditionality. However, habitual use of this concept risks obscuring the complex and contested set of ideas on which it draws. The idea of 'balancing rights with responsibilities' or 'everyone meeting their responsibilities' is unsurprisingly popular.

However, without a closer interrogation of the claims that underpin the concept of rights and responsibilities, this potentially potent idea loses focus and meaning, obfuscating the political purposes of those who use it.

In the context of welfare policy, it is important to think through the terms of a progressive conception of rights and responsibilities - including what it would mean for our society to be animated by such principles. If we accept that citizens have certain civic responsibilities, which can legitimately be enforced, we need to be clear about the corresponding roles and responsibilities of both the state and civil society, on which such citizen obligations depend.

This chapter delivers a sense of what a fair welfare contract might look like - and what it would take to achieve one. It begins by considering the different terms in which we might think about a fair welfare contract, and what we consider to be the best interpretation of them. It then goes on to explore what sort of responsibilities individuals, the state and civil society can plausibly be said to have under a fair welfare contract, before offering some thoughts on what this means in practice. Note: this is the second chapter of an ippr report, 'It's all about you: citizen-centred welfare', edited by Jim Bennett and Graeme Cooke, to be published in September 2007. The full report will be available to download free from the ippr website. Other extracted chapters will also be available to download.