Public policies for private corporations: the British corporate welfare state

Renewal - ISSN 0968-5211
Volume 21 Number 4 (2013)

Public policies for private corporations: the British corporate welfare state
Kevin Farnsworth pages -


One of the biggest myths of the contemporary political age is that private businesses would be stronger, more competitive, and more profitable, without the state. In reality, private businesses depend extensively on public services and state benefits – in other words, on corporate welfare. Corporate welfare describes public policies that directly or indirectly meet the specific needs and/or preferences of private businesses. Such provision assists corporations through their life-course. It makes possible the birth of corporations and helps to meet their evolving needs from ‘youth’ to maturity. It provides advice and protection and, more generally, socialises the costs and risks associated with private investment and profit-making. It keeps some companies on life-support and assists some companies in their death (Farnsworth, 2013). Despite the tendency to assume that citizens are the primary beneficiaries of public policies and the welfare state, there are very few examples of public policies that do not bring benefits to private businesses. The opposite is also true, of course; many forms of corporate welfare also bring benefits to citizens.

There is a big difference, however, in the way that social and corporate welfare are discussed, scrutinised and delivered. Social welfare is debated constantly. The costs, benefits and impact of provision on individual behaviour is the subject of heavy media and political scrutiny. Provision is based upon legally constituted rights and (relatively) clear procedures. And these rights are underpinned by duties. Corporate welfare is different in almost all respects. Whereas social welfare claimants are pilloried and castigated in the media for their irresponsible behaviour, corporate welfare claimants are often celebrated. Whereas social welfare recipients face increasingly tough conditions when they make a claim on the state, business recipients face few conditions and no real sanctions, even when their actions, for instance, on tax avoidance or lobbying against the welfare state, undermine the very future of public policy. 

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To cite this article
Kevin Farnsworth (2013) Public policies for private corporations: the British corporate welfare state, Renewal, 21(4), -

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