Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 October 2013
There are waves of public mood about public expenditure; it seems to be in fashion or strongly out of fashion. This contributes to alternating periods of plenty and famine in some countries, of which the United Kingdom provides a striking example. There is not only strong polarisation in periods of famine but also inadequate scrutiny during periods of plenty. Contemporary UK commentary, for example, exhibits conflicting narratives:
Labour's fiscal policy [1997–2010] amounted to little more than bribes to cultivate a client state of public sector employees and the feckless underclass.(Mowbray 2012)
Over a generation, social security has been rebranded as welfare, an undeserved gift rather than a right.(Clark 2012)
I think there's a very deliberate policy across all of the public sector to roll back the achievements that have been made in this country [United Kingdom] since the second world war – including the [National Health Service] – and that financial austerity is being used to pursue an agenda aimed at dismantling the state.(Gabriel Scally, quoted in Campbell 2012)
These quotations – quite mildly expressed compared to what can be found in the media and on the Web – contextualise this analysis of public expenditure from a social democratic perspective.
Social democracy presupposes a degree of confidence in the competence, legitimacy and accountability of state institutions. It requires a sense of common purpose and of belonging and inclusiveness, which together underpin social solidarity.