British Employment Policy in the 1980s: Learning from the American Experience



During the 1980s the Thatcher Government implemented numerous changes to the British employment system. Most of these changes had the effect of linking the receipt of welfare benefits to an individual's willingness to participate actively within a government sponsored employment or training scheme. These changes culminated in the Social Security Act (1989) which linked the receipt of welfare payments to an individual's active job search and willingness to accept any officially offered job after a maximum grace period of 13 weeks. While these changes are important in their own right, more interestingly, most trace their origins back to the American welfare-to-work system initiated by the Reagan administration during the early 1980s. This article will demonstrate why the Thatcher government turned to the United States in the development of their employment policy. Once an explanation for this has been provided the article will highlight the key policies transferred by the Thatcher Government in the development of the British welfare-to-work system. This entire analysis will be placed within a policy transfer framework in order to illustrate its usefulness in the analysis of policy development.