John Key’s perspective on the welfare state from a social democratic point of view

Based on Key’s speech before the 2008 General election

Essay, 2009
8 Pages, Grade: 2,0


There are two main stances concerning welfare policy, namely the neo-liberal and the social democratic point of view. In this essay a speech by John Key, held before the 2008 General Election about his perspective on the welfare state will be reflected. Key makes numerous remarks about the individual responsibility of the people, which clarify his view on welfare policy.

Thus, the neo-liberal perspective Key takes on the appropriate role of the welfare state and the nature and extent of individuals’ responsibilities for their personal circumstances will be articulated. Afterwards the neo-liberal stance will be criticized from a social democratic perspective.

Neo-liberals have a clear view on the appropriate role of the welfare state: They see welfare policy overall not as a central part of their politics. As Harvey (2006, p. 25) puts it, the neo-liberal state “withdraws from welfare provision and diminishes its role as far as possible in the arenas of health care, public education and social services […]”. One can find evidence for Key having the same view on welfare issues by reading his speech. For example, he bares that he is willing to support people when they are most in need (Key, 2008), which can be regarded as a sign for not having much interest in providing comprehensive welfare support for everyone in need. This impression is also strengthened by Key’s idea “to give people a kick in the pants when they are not taking responsibility for themselves, for their families, and for the taxpayer” (Key, 2008). Especially mentioning the taxpayer reveals that Key does not want the state to come up for people, who don’t have an interest in finding new employment or who rely completely on the state.

Moreover, neo-liberals have a normative preference for a residual or limited welfare state, which on the one hand provides at least to a certain degree a safety net for indigent people, but on the other hand adheres to low social spending, heavy reliance on family and enterprise welfare (R. Shaw, Neo-liberal politics, September 21, 2009). In addition to the quote above (“responsibility for their families”), Key also mentions families and children when he talks about people, who “are able to work and to take responsibility for their own lives and their children’s lives, yet [who] end up depending long-term on the state” (Key, 2008). It can be assumed that Key favors strong families. Evidence for this can also be found in “National’s Vision for New Zealand”, listing “values to achieve a safe, prosperous and successful New Zealand” (New Zealand National Party, 2009). Beneath others one can find “competitive enterprise and rewards for achievement”, “limited government” and “strong families and caring communities” (New Zealand National Party, 2009).

Furthermore, neo-liberals aim not to guarantee social well-being without individual commitment. Instead, they are seeking to create a good business climate and therefore optimize conditions for capital accumulation without emphasizing on employment and social well-being (Harvey, 2006). Hence, it can be seen what neo-liberal politics include, as the danger of unequal distribution of wealth is present. This quote can therefore also refer to Key’s notion that everyone should be aware that the world of work offers more possibilities for every individual than the welfare state can do (Key, 2008). In short: His policies are seeking to make work more attractive so that people are forced back to it. Key also recommends not to rely on the state but to make own attempts to find a way out of one’s miserable situation (Key, 2008). Individual effort to find employment and become a part of the “good business climate” (Harvey, 2006) is seen as a central possibility to overcome welfare benefits provided by the state.

Neo-liberals also share the belief in the equality of opportunity. The underlying assumption to this is that everyone is born into the same environment and comes from the same starting point, including same social circumstances, the same amount of skills and competences as well as freedom of choice. Key (2008), on his part, advises to encourage those who are able to work and therefore are able to take and create those opportunities instead of seeing themselves as a passive recipient of a benefit. Again, Key seems to refer to National’s visions and values, which also contain the two points “equal citizenship and equal opportunity” and “individual freedom and choice” (New Zealand National Party, 2009). As Margret Thatcher, British Premier Minister from 1979 to 1990 puts it, taking a wider view on the general role of the state, “this freedom fundamentally depends on the rule of law and fair legal system”. So the role of the state is to provide a framework for a prosperous development of the individual citizen. The role of the state is not to intervene in markets and therefore constrain anyone – be it in respect of economy, welfare or anything else.

The nature of society in neo-liberal politics is individualized. Apparently, the following quote by Margaret Thatcher, clarifies this view:

“[W]ho is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves…” (Thatcher, 1987)


Excerpt out of 8 pages


John Key’s perspective on the welfare state from a social democratic point of view
Based on Key’s speech before the 2008 General election
Massey University, New Zealand  (School of People, Environment and Planning)
Politics and Public Policy in New Zealand
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
490 KB
john, key’s, based, general
Quote paper
Jens Goldschmidt (Author), 2009, John Key’s perspective on the welfare state from a social democratic point of view, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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