Declaring an end to the “open-ended chequebook” of years past, David Cameron’s coalition government has taken square aim at the country’s famed, but much-criticized, social welfare system, slashing welfare and child-benefit payouts available to middle-class earners. The changes will save about 1 billion pounds annually, and are meant to encourage people to seek work rather than government support. But they are more notable for the message they send about the government’s intent and philosophy. They appear to be the start of wholesale reform advocated by cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith, a former Conservative leader. Now the Work and Pensions Secretary, Duncan Smith has evidently won endorsement for the biggest overhaul of the system in 60 years, notwithstanding strong resistance on the political left. Brendan Barber, head of Britain’s Trade Union Congress, has described today’s announcement as “a big blow to the principle that … welfare should be available to all, not just the poorest.” Which gives you a sense of how ingrained the culture of dependency has become in the U.K.