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Ten years of reform

In the ten years since the Coalition Government’s first Budget in June 2010, a lot has changed in the UK’s social security system. Millions of households today claim benefits that did not exist in 2010. They do so in different ways, under different conditions, and often receive different entitlements than a decade ago.

As we approach the anniversaries of many of the early landmarks in this period of welfare reform, the Commons Library is producing a series of briefings exploring the changes. It will include papers looking at the aims of welfare reform, welfare spending, disability benefit reform, changes in how benefits are claimed and paid, employment support and benefit sanctions, and the reform of housing support.

The aims of welfare reform

This first briefing looks at the aims which governments since 2010 have set out to justify major welfare reforms.

It focuses on how the Coalition and Conservative governments since 2010 explained and justified the major changes they introduced. Other briefings in this series will discuss the effects of welfare reform and wider policy debates.

The aims of ten years of welfare reform has two parts:

  • Sections 1 to 3 describe in chronological order three phases of reform, setting out the aims of policy changes under:
    • The Coalition Government (2010-2015)
    • The Conservative governments from 2015 to the present
    • The coronavirus crisis (2020)
  • Section 5 includes a table which outlines major welfare reforms in the last decade, their legislative background, aims, and further reading.

Major periods of change

There have been two major periods of change to primary legislation, following general elections in 2010 and 2015. Common threads ran though both. Successive governments have consistently aimed to limit spending on working age benefits, protect pensioners, encourage work wherever possible, and simplify the system.

The Coalition Government’s first Budget in June 2010 introduced early measures – which were later reinforced by other legislative measures – to restrict spending growth on certain working age benefits and protect pensioner benefits. Alongside other major changes, the Welfare Reform Act 2012 legislated for Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payment. Now claimed by millions, rolling out these benefits has been a central focus of Government social security policy ever since.

Reforms have continued throughout the period of Coalition and Conservative governments. The incoming Conservative Government in 2015 aimed to deliver a further £12 billion of savings by 2019-20 through a package of measures in the Summer Budget of 2015 and the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016. Subsequent budgets have increased payments for certain claimants.

Increases to some benefits and administrative changes made in response to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic have been a major departure from policy over the past decade. Much of this is temporary, but the long-term effect remains uncertain at the time of writing.


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