Prideaux, S (2001) 'New Labour, Old Functionalism: The Underlying Contradictions of Welfare Reform in the US and the UK', in Social Policy and Administration, Vol 35, No 1: 85 -115.
[The main application of the critique here is social and welfare policy, but the general principles are similar, although I personally believe that the links between functionalism and UK Labour Party type socialism can clearly be found in earlier versions of Labour policy too -- see file. It should be possible to see some connections with New Labour and leisure policy as you go through.]
New Labour supported the view that a fair society was also an efficient one [classic links to Davis and Moore before we get very far!]. However, on coming to power, New Labour shifted to the right and stressed elements such as competitiveness, efficiency and profitability. The same debate affected welfare reform in the United States. There are three 'points of similarity with the sociologically outmoded ideas of functionalism' (86): (a) the notion of social stratification; (b) 'the relationship between "stakeholding" and "community"' (86); (c) solutions to unemployment and poverty. There is also an underlying moral discourse about human nature, character and behaviour, as in the slogans about the balance of rights and responsibilities, and in the concern for social order and the moral regulation of individualism [that is, social cohesion]. The policies assume that some functional adjustment can be found to reconcile all these interests.
There were some moral differences, however. Functionalists such as Etzioni were morally and politically committed to the US social system, while New Labour originally had a rival in the 'ethical socialism of Ralf Dahrendorf and A H Halsey' (87). Giddens and his writing on the third way helped to fuse American and British traditions, mostly by celebrating a new self determining and reflexive individuality. Socialism for Blair became a matter of arranging UK society so that such individuals could achieve maximum self actualization.
Another approach stresses the development of managerialization in social policy (see 87). According to this view, managerialism oversees and connects 'markets, partnerships, an emphasis on customers and the recomposition of the labour force' (87 , quoting Clarke et al.). What this approach offers is a version of 'the positivism of functionalism', for Prideaux.
Like Davis and Moore [told you!], stratification was seen as normal, and as functional in ensuring that the most suitable individuals filled various positions, and were motivated to perform in them. This required differential rewards. Inequalities was seen as inevitable and efficient in New Labour too. Merton's early idea of stratification as involving different hierarchies of culturally defined goals was also appealing, and led to a view that we should all show a constant desire to improve our social standing. Similarly, any pathologies 'such as high unemployment, poverty and crime' could be seen as a matter of functional lag -- 'An inconvenient hiccup as it were' (89), easily rectified and not endemic to the system. The capitalist system was seen as a successful evolutionary adaptation. The key to both efficiency and fairness was equality of opportunity rather than of outcome, and this came to replace traditional Labour policies of redistribution. [I think this functionalist solution was precisely what lay behind the socialism of an earlier generation, such as Crosland, and in particular his support for a US - type meritocratic school system -- the 'comprehensive'. This school system would also encourage equality of esteem as the different social classes mixed, and this would be a fundamental force of social cohesion, despite later differences of wealth, income and power. The same idea seems to lie behind a similar belief in the fundamental 'levelling' and mixing qualities of sport.]
The only reallocation needed was that designed to increase of equality of opportunity [I also insist that in functionalist hands that simple proposal became very radical, leading Durkheim, for example, to want to severely limit inherited wealth. Even Davis and Moore were alert to the dangers of advantage passing from generation to generation. In this sense, functionalism is far more radical than New Labour]. In welfare terms, the state should simply provide opportunities for people to work their own way out of poverty and exclusion. There is no reason why this should not be achieved through public-private partnerships [you could even argue that this was a more functional arrangement, since it provided the individual with the characteristic forms, rewards, and inducements of capitalism right from the beginning, with no nasty adjustment required between the values of welfare and the values of work]. Education and training would also help. Everyone would benefit from this kind of arrangement [that is it would be the most functional, the most fair and the most efficient].
However, a broader framework was needed too. Welfare provision, including minimum wages, would be met by demanding new social responsibilities [classic Giddens here]. The term 'stakeholding' summarises this new vision: stakeholders are more than mere shareholders with short-term economic interests, but have wider obligations and become actively involved in policy. In this way, collective interest would emerge, as individuals became aware of their collective responsibilities. The notion was extended to community and social organisations too. Parsons and Merton also saw the community as having the key function of integration, as offering a tangible demonstration of the collective and its symbolism.
These themes are picked up in later functionalist versions of communitarianism, as in Etzioni (discussed 92 - 3) [looks like a version of Durkheim's insistence that families, neighbourhoods, guilds and schools were needed to counter excessive individualism]. Etzioni too believed in moral education [the application is ot a school system but the peculiarly limited notion of UK regional devolution]. The government must ensure that the underclass does not remain permanently excluded, and there was a right wing version of this, reviving the old themes of a criminal and permanently hostile underclass. In British political thought, the underclass became the classic 'undeserving poor', the voluntarily unemployed [as far as I know, a concept unknown in functionalism -- Prideaux finds similarities with the concept of anomie, but I have my doubts.] Here, New Labour has revived some traditional themes, stressing an obligation to work, backed , if necessary, by some coercion.
More generally, New Labour policies express functionalist positivism. American experience is also seen as an important source of practical knowledge to engineer the new policies. [American policy is summarised pages 94 - 6, focusing especially on compulsory community work experience programmes, welfare - to - work initiatives, policies insisting that claimants pursue active job searches, and compulsory literacy programmes]. These led to British policy in 1988 under the Conservatives [Conservative policies discussed 96 - 7, including the proposed withdrawal of benefits unless accompanied by youth training].
New Labour's functionalism continued these policies in the form of the New Deal. Work is seen as the major route to social cohesion, and this was supported by the 'already constant recurring themes of education/re-education, obligation, mutual responsibility, self-reliance and the concept of workfare' (97). Participation was to be 'paternalistically enforced upon "dysfunctional" individuals in a graphic demonstration of the positive exercise of functionalist thought' (97). The very culture of benefit claimants was to be changed, and the option of claiming welfare without working was removed. Long-term unemployed people were to be subsidised in order to return to work.
Education was seen increasingly as fitting people for work and encouraging self reliance and innovation. Provision was made in the form of individual learning accounts which involved recipients in some responsibility and choice. They also provided some experience with saving and investing, and advice centres were to be set up [this was written presumably before the whole thing collapsed as a result of deep suspicions that money was not actually being spent on education]. The University for Industry was to be established [oh yes, what happened to that?] offering variations of open learning in the community, based on relevant skills for industry. Conventional undergraduates would continue to receive loans, and to pay fees [and now substantial top-up fees paid out of a further loan]. Schools would be reformed in order to offer a long-term solution -- underachievement excludes and so should be overcome, hence the system of frequent assessment, league tables, and 'streaming every pupil according to ability' (100) [not explicit government policy yet as far as I know, but very likely]. Teachers will be better trained [ha!]. Basic skills will be stressed. Failing schools will be closed. More vocational qualifications will be developed, and extensive IT provision will be financed, probably again by public-private partnerships.
In the workplace, partnership will replace conflict, following a similar cultural change. [Durkheim ahad some good ideas here about shared values arising from a revived guild system. New Labour seems to have 'Japanised' work cultures in mind instead?]. Minimum standards of employment and wages will be accompanied by increased emphasis on flexibility and competition, and the familiar requirement to exercise obligations, in this case to cooperate with employers [and maintain 'quality', supervise and regulate each other etc?]. Trade unions should be actively incorporated.
Each of these proposals presuppose a rational, functional hierarchy, within which individuals compete to the best of their ability. Social exclusion will be finally ended.
However, the policies reflect 'a serious lack of social comprehension', especially about the workings of capitalism (102). There is for example a belief that [capitalist] work is about satisfying individual and social needs, and that communities can develop in a deeply divided society: public private partnerships assume benevolent capitalists. American functionalism itself ignored what happens to the losers -- they had to be seen as 'at best dysfunctional, or at worst "feckless"' (102) [still better than 'underserving'?]. [cf the old Tumin critique of Davis and Moore, based on a conflict sociology view that achievement is a zero-sum game]. Functionalism represents the viewpoint of the winners. Merely providing opportunity does not achieve equality of opportunity [reminds me of my very wonderful work on the Open University which makes exactly that point].
The real problems can be seen in the need for capitalism to maintain a reserve army of labour. Similarly, unemployment can be a deliberate strategy in the substitution of machines for human beings. Compulsory work for welfare can add to these problems, by helping to eliminate existing paid labour [Prideaux gives some examples of how this happened in the USA page 104]. Those on workfare often complain, justifiably, that there are being exploited. The net effect is to bring down labour costs, and possibly to further discourage or disadvantage those already in work. It is doubtful whether workfare programmes lead to permanent employment, and this can further disillusion and alienate those on the programme. Thus the early initial success in US programmes led to later drop-out and disappearance off the records, a substantial return to unemployment, and the continuation of poverty (105). The schemes tend to be expensive to run in practice, if the requisite level of support is provided -- involving 'expenditure "in child care, transport, supervision and running expenses"' (105 quoting Timmins). Indeed, one estimate is that the programmes are 60 per cent more expensive than straight forward benefit. Social exclusion might even be increased. [The suspicion is that both unemployment and social exclusion are structured into capitalism]. Continued exclusion, poverty, and resentment are extremely unlikely to lead to functioning communities.
One British commentator argues that 'workfare works best as an ideology and not necessarily in practice' (106, quoting Walker). Real opportunity should be provided instead. Sanctioning reluctant participants can even make things worse, and traditional welfare is probably a better solution. The scheme seems designed only to appeal to the public's view that no-one should get 'free' benefit, or to prevent the final undermining of the work ethic.
The same problems will almost certainly be found in the British version, especially as capitalism has not been restrained. UK policies themselves have been unsuccessful, such as the 'ill-fated YTS [youth training scheme] experiment... [which]... was deemed to have exacerbated homelessness amongst the young' (107). The schemes cost more in the UK just as they do in the US [but we get EU subsidy?]. The young tend to disappear in the UK rather than get involved in the programmes [figures cited on page 107 suggest that 27 per cent of eligible young people disappeared in this way in 1998]. The work provided is still widely seen as dead end and meaningless. [Some participants speak on page 108]. Government policy does little to control employer abuse, and may even be encouraging it: they seem to offer only a vague screening system for potential employers, with no real criteria.
There is no real basis for the belief that this will produce responsible citizens among the the excluded. The Government is quick to suggest hat some of the poor have calculated that they are better off on benefit, but they have a naive trust of employers not to calculate their interest similarly and exploit the schemes. Nor are there any reasons given for the faith in employers to act benevolently [they need John Stuart Mill. A proper functionalist will also help to explain that it is the employer's interest that is also being served by fair and efficient recruitment. Again, New Labour is not functionalist enough!]. Nor are employers required to be as flexible as workers, nor are their rights to manage to be threatened by participation. Even minimum wages may not be enforceable, given the prevalence of false records, few inspectors and minimal fines. Employers are likely to develop new patterns of employment to break the new rights, and, as we have seen, workfare recipients could be used to replace workers on minimum wages.
In education, there are the well-known negative effects of streaming and competition, and the absence of any consideration of highly unequal forms of familial support [although this has been a major theme in earlier research, some of it inspired by functionalist notions of meritocracy]. Testing can introduce these negative effects at an early age, although the government seems to see only positive effects. In higher education, increased fees could reduce effective equal opportunity, and the vocational turn ignores the lack of suitable jobs. As a result, graduate unemployment could increase, as a skilled version of the reserve army develops. None of these factors will help stimulate a sense of community.
It is unlikely that new deals will succeed in the UK any more than they have done so in the US. The underlying beliefs about individuals and communities are best seen as ideologies rather than practical policies. Problems have not been addressed, through a basic lack of comprehension, including the ways in which consumerism has replaced the work ethic. Bauman's solution might be best in the end -- 'the decoupling of income entitlement from income earning capacity alongside a... decoupling of work from the labour market' (112). [fat bloody chance!]
[Going through this, I was thinking about current campaigns about sport, exercise and obesity. These seem based on a similar ideology about what people should be like, and how they should take care of the investment in their bodies, and be responsible enough not to make excessive demands on the health service. There is a similar lack of comprehension of the real factors at work. These may not be as politically important, of course, not inherently connected to capitalism -- although capitalism prefers slim, fit, and well-disciplined bodies, it has been argued. Nor is there yet any sign of compulsion in the Government's policy, no plans to reduce health benefits for the obese, although there are rumours of hospitals making the obese a low priority. Certainly the naive views about social cohesion apply. What on earth is the point of getting people from very different backgrounds to mix and play together in recreation centres when, for the rest of their lives, they are so unequal? Nor have the divisive potentials of sport and leisure been considered, the negative effect on losers, the exclusion of those who do not possess designer sportswear, or do not uphold the necessary heterosexuality -- see file for example.]