Neoliberalism and The New Right – An Introduction

Neoliberalism is an economic theory that believes free-market principles are the best way to organise society. The New Right is a political movement in the UK which has applied neoliberal thinking to social policies from 1979 to the present day.

What is Neoliberalism?

Neoliberalism is a pro-capitalist economic theory which believes that the ‘free market’ in capitalist economies is the best basis for organising society. Free market economies are based upon the choices individuals make when spending their money. The general principle is that if you ‘leave everything to the market’, then businesses will provide what people demand – because businesses want to make a profit and they can’t make a profit if they don’t provide what people want.

Market forces also encourage competition – when people see high demand for a product, they are encouraged to produce and sell that product – and the better product they can make and the cheaper they can sell it for, then the more profit they make.

The advantages of a free market system

According to Neoliberalism – the advantages of a free-market system are:

  1. Individual Freedom – They are based on the principle of allowing individuals to be free to pursue their own self-interest – this is seen as the best way to pursue the maximum good in society.
  2. They are efficient – businesses try to be efficient in order to maximise profit.
  3. Innovation – Competition and the profit motive encourage people to produce new products to stimulate demand – we probably wouldn’t have had the iPad without Capitalism!
  4. Economic Growth and jobs – The end result of leaving businesses free to do do business is more wealth and more jobs.

Neoliberalism and Social Policy

Neoliberals believe that governments should play a reduced role in managing the economy and in controlling people’s lives. In Neoliberal thought, the free market knows best, and individuals should be allowed as much freedom as possible to go about their businesses should be allowed more freedom to compete with each other in order to make profit.

  1. Deregulation – Removing restrictions on businesses and employers involved in world trade – In practice this means reducing tax on Corporate Profits, or reducing the amount of ‘red tape’ or formal rules by which companies have to abide – for example reducing health and safety regulations.
  2. Fewer protections for workers and the environment – For the former this means doing things like scrapping minimum wages, permanent contracts. This also means allowing companies the freedom to increasingly hire ‘flexible workers’ on short-term contracts.
  3. Privatisation – selling to private companies industries that had been owned and run by the state
  4. Cutting taxes – so the state plays less of a role in providing welfare – social security, education and health for example.
  5. IMPORTANTLY – In most neoliberal theory, the state does have a minimal role to play – it needs to protect private property – given that profit is the main motive, the system won’t work if anyone can steal or vandalise anyone else’s property – and so the state needs to maintain control of law and order.

The New Right

The New Right is a political philosophy associated with the Conservative Government (1979-1997 and 2010 to the present day). The New Right adopted and put into practice many of the ideas of Neoliberalism, but there are some differences (indicated below).

The New Right: Five Key Ideas:

  1. The introduction of free market principles into many areas of life (Like Neoliberalism) – The best example of this is the Marketisation of Education, and we also see it with academies.
  2. Reduced Spending by the State (Like Neoliberalism) – The 1979 Conservative government cut taxes on the highest income earners and the current conservative government is cutting public services massively.
  3. An emphasis on individual freedom and responsibility (Like Neoliberalism) – The New Right have cut welfare spending enormously – believing that welfare breeds dependency. Similarly, tax breaks for the rich are seen as promoting self-interest.
  4. A strong state in terms of upholding law and order – we see this in ‘Right Realist’ ideas of crime control – with Zero Tolerance Policing and increasing use of Prison as a form of punishment – this links with the above idea of holding people responsible for their own actions (rather than blaming their backgrounds like other perspectives might).
  5. A stress on the importance of traditional institutions and values (unlike neoliberalism). The New Right believe in maintaining some traditions, as they see this as the basis for social order and stability – they strongly support the traditional nuclear family as the backbone of society for example, and still support the idea of a National Curriculum, set by the government, which sets the agenda in education.

Signposting and Related Posts 

The distinction between neoliberalism and The New Right is especially important for the social theories aspect of the theory and methods module.

Related posts include…

New Right Views of the Family

The New Right View of Education

The Neoliberal Theory of Economic Development (if you’re teacher, you really should be teaching the Global Development module!)

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Functionalist, Marxist and New Right Perspectives on Education

A brief video I put together to help revise the Functionalist, Marxist and New Right Perspectives on Education – basically just some key points and evaluations for each of these sociological theories.

Functionalism – Social solidarity, skills for work, bridge between home and society, role allocation and meritocracy

Marxism – The reproduction and legitimation of class inequality and the correspondence principle

The New Right – Marketisation, league tables, the National Curriculum and New Vocationalism

The slide show goes through each perspective three times – each repeat has less information. The idea is that you can test yourself as you go….. It’s deliberately designed to be ‘no frills’ btw!

Functionalist, Marxist and New Right Perspectives on Education: Test Yourself…

Once you’ve reviewed the above video you might like to test yourself with the Quizlet below…!


This material has been written specifically for A-level sociology students revising for the A-level sociology AQA exam, the education topic which is part of Paper 1 (SCLY1)

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The New Right’s View of Education

The New Right created an education market in the United Kingdom from 1988 through introducing league tables and formula funding, among other education policies.

The New Right believe in Marketisation (schools competing like businesses) and Parentocracy (parental choice) and they are well known for introducing league tables, GCSEs and OFSTED in the UK as part the 1988 Education Reform Act

This post covers the underlying principles of New Right thought and should be read along with this post on the 1988 Education Act which outlines specific New Right education policies.

The New Right is closely associated with Neoliberalism, and this post (Neoliberalism and the New Right – An Introduction) covers the similarities and differences between them.

The New Right: Underlying Principles

  • Lowering taxation and reducing government spending.
  • The introduction of free market principles into more areas of social life traditionally paid for by taxation (such as education and the health services).
  • An emphasis on individual freedom responsibility (they are against the welfare state).
  • A strong state where law and order is concerned (Right Realist Policies are examples).
  • Pro-tradition – they support the traditional married nuclear family.

New Right Education Policies

  1. The New Right created an ‘education market’ – Schools were run like businesses – competing with each other for pupils and parents were given the choice over which school they send their children to rather than being limited to the local school in their catchment area. This lead to the establishment of league tables
  2. Schools should teach subjects that prepare pupils for work, Hence education should be aimed at supporting economic growth. Hence: New Vocationalism!
  3. The state was to provide a framework in order to ensure that schools were all teaching the same thing and transmitting the same shared values – hence the National Curriculum

Evaluation of New Right ideas on Education 

  • Competition between schools benefited the middle classes and lower classes, ethnic minorities and rural communities ended up having less effective choice – refer to the handout criticising the 1988 Education Act
  • Vocational Education was also often poor – refer to the HO on Vocational Education
  • There is a contradiction between wanting schools to be free to compete and imposing a national framework that restricts schools
  • The National Curriculum has been criticised for being ethnocentric and too restrictive on teachers and schools

The Neoliberal and New Right view of education 

You might also like the mind map below – a more up to date summary of neoliberalism and the new right

Neoliberal new right education.png

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my sociology of education revision notes bundle – which contains the following:

Education Revision Bundle Cover
  1. 34 pages of revision notes
  2. mind maps in pdf and png format – 9 in total, covering various topics within the sociology of education
  3. short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers
  4. how to write sociology essays, including 7 specific templates and model answers on the sociology of education
Signposting and Related Posts

This material is usually taught as part o the education module within A-level sociology.

Related posts include:  

Neoliberalism and the New Right – An Introduction

The Neoliberal Perspective on Education.

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The New Right View of the Family

The New Right believe the traditional nuclear family is the ideal type of family. They support social policies which encourage nuclear families – they are pro marriage and against benefits for single mothers.

The New Right believe that the traditional nuclear family is best type of family, where both partners are married. The believe this is the most stable environment in which to raise children who will conform to the values of society.

The New Right see married families are better than cohabiting families because the former provide are less likely to break up. They are against single parent families and the Welfare State which they believe encourages higher levels of single parenthood.

The New Right View of the Family

In the 1980s New Right thinkers argued that government policy was undermining the family so policy changes were needed. Their thinking dominated policy development from 1979 to 1997.

Like Functionalists, the New Right hold the view that there is only one correct or normal family type. This is the traditional or conventional nuclear family. Again like Functionalists, the New Right sees this family as ‘natural’ and based on fundamental biological differences between men and women. In their view this family is the cornerstone of society; a place of contentment, refuge and harmony.

The New Right argue that the decline of the traditional family and the growth of family diversity are the cause of many social problems such as higher crime rates and declining moral standards generally.

The New Right believe that it is important for children to have a stable home, with married mother and father, and that ideally the wife should be able to stay at home to look after the children.

They believe that the introduction of the welfare state led to a culture where people depend on hand-outs from the state and that these encourage single parenting, which in turn, they argue leads to deviancy and a decline in morality.

New Right thinking encouraged the conservative government to launch the Back to Basics campaign 1993 to encourage a return to traditional family values. This was criticised for being unsuccessful, and hypocritical due some Conservative MPs being found to be having affairs or being divorced.

A more recent example of a social policy which the New Right would probably agree with is the The Troubled Families Programme – in which mainly underclass and lone-parent families were targeted with interventions to try and reduce such things as youth offending.

Evidence for ‘non-nuclear families’ being a problem

The main source of the evidence below is the Daily Mail Article below (1), supplement with comments (I won’t call it ‘data’) from the right wing think tank CIVITAS. (2 below).

  • 52% of children born to cohabiting couples see their parents break up before their fifth birthday compared to only 6% of children born to married couples (1)
  • Children from broken homes are almost five times more likely to develop emotional problems.
  • Young people whose mother and father split up are three times as likely to become aggressive or badly behaved.
  • Lone-parent families are more than twice as likely to live in poverty as two-parent families.
  • Children from broken homes are nine times more likely to become young offenders.

NB: the political bias of CIVITAS means their research may not be objective and value free.

Criticisms of the New Right view of the family

The New Right relies on correlations between family types and social problems to conclude that children from families which have broken up suffer more social problems than children who remain in two parent families.

However, correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation. It might not be lone parent families that ’cause’ children to have problems. It could be the higher levels of poverty suffered by lone parents, for example.

Similarly wealthier middle class couples are more able to afford the costs of getting married compared to poorer lower class couples, so any higher rates of breakdown among cohabiting. couples may be due to financial pressures as they have less money.

So we should be careful that the New Right view is a biased, middle class view. These are the people who themselves live in stable married nuclear families and this is the type of family they support.

Feminists argue that higher levels of relationship breakdowns and divorce are not necessarily bad. The fact that divorce is easier today is potentially good. This is because it is better for both a woman and a child to be on their own as a single parent family rather than being trapped in unhappy or abusive relationships.

Feminists further argue that gender roles are socially determined rather than being fixed by biology. The traditional gender roles which the New Right tend to support are oppressive to women.

The New Right stereotypes single parents and wages a moral panic against them. Most single parents are not welfare scroungers – most want to work but find it difficult to find jobs that are flexible enough so they can balance work and child care. They need appropriate social policies in place to enable them. todo this, rather than the pro-marriage policies the New Right support.

The New Right have exaggerated the decline of the Nuclear family. Most adults still marry and have children. Most children are reared by their two natural parents. Most marriages continue until death. Divorce has increased, but most divorcees remarry.

Signposting and Related Posts

The New Right Perspective on the family is a key part of the families and households module within A-level sociology.

The Feminist View of The Family – criticises the New Right view.

The Late Modern View of The Family – criticises the New Right view.

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(1) The Daily Mail (2008) : Broken Home Children are ‘Five Times More Likely to Suffer Mental Troubles’, based on a Department for Health funded Study which sampled 8000 children aged between 5 and 16 in 2004,


*That’s how flakey ‘research’ fro CIVITAS is, probably best NOT to trust it! Link provided here for historical context and entertainment purposes only!