The Tory Attack on Welfare

In 1942, in the darkest days of the Second World War, Sir William Beveridge, a civil servant and a Liberal, produced a report. In it he identified what he called the ‘Five Giants on the Road to Social Progress’.

These giants were Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness.

He argued that to defeat these giants, the government should provide people with adequate income, adequate health care, adequate education, adequate housing and adequate employment.  It proposed that ‘All people of working age should pay a weekly National Insurance contribution. In return, benefits would be paid to people who were sick, unemployed, retired or widowed.’

This report also encompassed educational reform (the 1944 Education Act, passed in wartime by R A Butler, a Conservative minister) and Universal Child Benefit. It strengthened Old Age Pensions, Unemployment and Sickness Benefit and of course, proposed  the National Health Service.

Beveridge had researched universal benefits and found them to be the most cost-effective way of providing support, unlike the means-tested benefits of the 1930s.

This report had all-party support in the wartime coalition government, and formed the basis of the programme followed by Clement Attlee’s Labour government in 1945. A huge national achievement at a time when the country was bankrupt after the war.

But not without opposition.

The National Health Service was strongly opposed by both Tories and vested interests in the medical profession. Aneurin Bevan said that in order to quieten the opposition he had to ‘stuff their mouths with gold’.

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For many years, under both Labour and Conservative governments, there was support for the welfare state and social justice. But in the wings some Tories’ anger still lingered, and they made their plans to destroy what Beveridge and the 1945 government had achieved.

That opposition never went away,  but festered in the right wing of the Tory party.  It came back, suddenly made respectable,  in the time of Margaret Thatcher.  Who once said “There is no such thing as society”.  Which meant that there should be no such thing as having the majority who were in work and reasonably comfortably off looking after the poorer, older and more vulnerable members of – what?  If there was no society, how could people help each other?

Thatcher was a neoliberal,  a devotee of a political philosophy whose advocates support economic liberalisation,  free trade and open markets,  privatization,  deregulation, and decreasing the size of the public sector while increasing the role of the private sector in modern society.  An enemy of any social enterprise such as the Welfare State.   She began the process of privatisation, especially in the NHS,  through measures such as competitive tendering (which was nothing of the sort) in hospital ancillary services,  and also in areas of education.  In fact, she tried to push education into the department of industry, but that was a move too far.  In effect she was starting a process that we see operating at full tilt today, crony capitalism, where a neoliberal government acts and passes laws to benefit its friends and supporters.

The present coalition government are often referred to as ‘Thatcher’s Children’ and they truly are – both the Tories and the Liberal Democrat Orange Bookers – most of whom only disagree with the Tories over Europe.  Indeed Clegg has said he would have joined the Tories had they not been Eurosceptic. David Laws and Danny Alexander are similar.

They have as a central plank of their political ‘philosophy’ the smaller state.  They actually believe that the state should not help anyone unless they are absolutely flat-out destitute,  or almost dead.  The worst of this attitude can be seen in the works of George (“Iain Duncan”) Smith – the ATOS decisions on Disability Living Allowance, the Bedroom Tax, the Social Emergency Fund, the cap on welfare spending.  In education it can be seen seen in Michael Gove planning to sell state schools to profit-making Academy chains.  It is there in Lansley and Hunt’s utter destruction of the National Health Service – to be replaced by a US style private insurance system.  It is clearly shown in the closing of the public coastal rescue services and putting the service provision out to tender.  It is there in the sale of libraries, fire stations, school playing fields.  The list of private benefactors being given big presents by this Tory-led government goes on and on, and on.

This was clearly the direction of travel from day one of the coalition.  It is in their souls.  And they have been assisted by a media which either supports them or,  like the BBC,  acquiesces without complaint.  By media commentators who have never used the NHS or the state education system,  and see no reason to fight for them…

But we ordinary citizens have to fight, in any way we can.  We need to take that fight to the Lib Dems, who praise food banks whilst voting to cut welfare payments. Who praise local state schools but vote for Gove’s destruction of the system. Who break their ‘solemn pledges’ not to raise university tuition fees. Who now campaign to save our local hospitals having voted for Lansley’s bill which set out the destruction of the NHS and will vote for Hunt’s which will finish the process off. We need to expose the Tories’ crony capitalism for what it really is, raw, naked greed dressed as a political principle.

And the time all this greed and desecration  comes together is now – April 2013.  It is no longer a bleak future, it is a callous present,  in which everything is described by its cost,  not by its value.

But when we have seen off this mob of shysters we will have to rebuild the caring nation – the one nation. We will have a task as great as that facing Attlee and his generation. Like him we should take our vision from the work of Sir William Beveridge.

The giants on our road to social progress may be different, but we must resolve to slay them also.

 

With acknowledgements and grateful thanks to Dick Smith, Carshalton and Wallington Labour Party.

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