The purpose of this paper is to examine the language and cultural assumptions that government uses when proposing policy reforms for the financing of later life, especially in promoting the financial capability of citizens. The author asks what the implications of this political construction are for society.
The author examines UK government policy documents from the foundation of the Financial Services Authority in 1997 until 2013. The author analyses these documents to understand the discourses of government for the financing of later life, how powerful these discourses are, and what influence they have on policy and society.
The paper shows that the government considers the promotion of the financial capability agenda to be a solution to structural problems in the provision of old age welfare. By controlling the discourse, non-market-based discussions of welfare are closed and any need for examination of the structural causes of inequality in old age is made invisible. The discourse prevents critique of the individualisation of risk and market provided welfare and service delivery, and failures of policy become the failures of individuals as both consumers and regulators.
The financial capability agenda sounds so sensible and has enrolled so many different organisations in its delivery that it is rare to reflect on the cultural and political assumptions that lie behind these discourses. When these are analysed, the author observes that individualised discourses surrounding money and welfare in later life are so powerful that more collective solutions to issues of financial welfare are closed off from public debate and discussion.
The author is grateful to the Economic and Social Research Council for funding this research as part of the “Behind Closed Doors: Older Couples and the Management of Household Money” project, ESRC RES-061-25-0090. The author is also grateful to her colleague Dr Lynne Livsey for helping to develop many of the ideas in this paper.
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