This post is by Andrew O. Moore, Senior Fellow at NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families.
October 20, 2010 is likely to shape up as yet another challenging day for America’s cities – short on revenue, shorter on public sector employees than two years ago, facing the demands imposed by the ongoing recession.
In Great Britain, October 20 is another kettle of fish. That’s the day the coalition government will release the Comprehensive Spending Review. Already, government workers and citizens alike know to expect 25% cuts in national agency budgets. What they don’t know yet are the details.
A major question at hand: Will the UK’s 60+ year experiment in social welfare bend to the crushing budget realities? Related “wonderings:” Can the British transform the complex multi-benefit system that has built up over the years – reportedly requiring recipients of benefits to earn as much as £20 per hour to justify leaving benefits behind – into the proposed unified (i.e., one) benefit structure? Will the NHS continue to provide medical care on demand? What new relationship might form between the central government and local municipal authorities? Will public sector unions – and the Labour Party they help fund — propose effective alternatives to the almost certain proposals for layoffs at a vast scale?
Participating in a recent US-UK exchange conference focused on the reentry of former prisoners into communities, brings the discussion into sharper relief on that one issue. Will the UK’s National Offender Management Service -– responsible for some 87,000 prisoners, with a per-prisoner budget roughly four times that devoted to the US’ 2+ million prisoners –- be able to continue to provide extensive substance abuse treatment to all, upon entry to the system? How will the UK’s prisons and jails, some dating back 900 years, respond to Minister of Justice Kenneth Clarke’s clarion call for all prisoners to go to work for wages?
For those of us in the U.S., the direction the UK takes this autumn is of material interest. Notwithstanding a certain 1776 revolution, the US and the UK have traded domestic policy ideas and compared strategies for well over 100 years – though the British went ever so much further toward creating a “welfare state” in the post-World War II years. Among recent examples, the UK roughly paralleled the US transition to work-based welfare with its New Deal, and closely watched the success in the US of particular strategies such as paid transitional employment. Moreover, the proposed scale of national cutbacks is reminiscent of the block grant fever, and end to anything approaching general revenue sharing for cities, that occupied the US government in the early 1980s.
Especially with a potentially momentous election of our own two weeks away,
those of us in the US will do well to monitor the initiatives, politics, and outcomes of UK efforts to economize. We might see approaches worth adapting – or to avoid.