Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

The end of the Welfare State – as we’ve known it

In Editorial on July 2, 2013 at 12:38 pm

One of the most drastic changes to welfare provision in the UK since the 1940s came into force towards the end of April this year. Indeed, the Guardian headlined it “The day Britain changed”. The so-called reforms to the system sweep away the basic principles on which our Welfare State was built, burying them in a mish-mash of cuts, fragmentisation and means tests. Welcome to the new face of the caring state!

It’s difficult to list all the changes that are coming into force. They’re too wide ranging. There are such evil measures as the “cap on over-occupancy” – otherwise known to us as the “bedroom tax”. There are of course changes designed to erode the foundations of the NHS, until the service becomes unrecognisable as the one we inherited from Nye Bevan. And there are fresh, far reaching strictures on the payment of benefits.

Also there are changes in areas that some people might not even recognise as being part of the welfare structure, but are still important to us all. One such is legal aid, which will now be virtually beyond the reach of most of us. Some might consider this to be one of the more mean-spirited moves contained in the raft of “reforms” that we face – but of course it faces stiff competition from other such measures.

Not all these changes will affect us simultaneously. Some could be described as work in progress, whilst others are the culmination of legislation already passed. But, added together, it all amounts to the biggest single onslaught on the principles of welfare provision in our lifetimes.

WHY?

Some of us might want to ask why? Why, at this stage, has our ConDem government chosen to mount such a concerted assault on the welfare of its people? One might also want to ask why the Liberal Democrats (once closely identified with the principles of the welfare state) have chosen to go along with this attack on welfare? But then, looking at the motley crew led by Nick Clegg, we’re tempted to retort, “silly question!”

There are always a number of answers to questions such as these. Overall, it’s because the Government believes it can – and can get away with it. It believes that this package of measures is, generally speaking, popular with those who voted for them , and also strikes a chord amongst others in the electorate. Too many voters seem to have been taken in by the distinction made by some Tories between “strivers” and “skivers” – and have forgotten the basic principles on which the welfare state was founded.

Another reason, of course, is that ideologically it fits in with the way top Tories see our society. Many genuinely believe in a structure within which we should all be encouraged to better ourselves (and our families, of course) – and those who fail to do so have only themselves to blame. If you believe in a competitive society, then it’s not easy to adjust to a concept of working for the common good. One might also add the point that administration of “welfare” can also provide opportunities for the private sector and thus become a nice little earner. In the case of such bodies as ATOS it degenerates into a distorted parody of what it should be.

So the notion of a “welfare state” is to be reduced to a minimum safety net for those in our society who, for a whole raft of reasons, can no longer provide adequately for themselves and their families. And thus the principles on which it came into being are deliberately ignored – and forgotten.

When the welfare state was painstakingly built up (during those reforming years of 1945 to 1951) it was based on the principle of universality. It belonged to all of us, regardless of who we were in society. We all had the same entitlements, because we were all part of the same caring society.

Now this spirit only survives with the National Health Service – and even here the Government (via the Health and Social Care Act) is doing all it can to undermine its basic principles and crush that spirit.

FIGHT FOR THE WELFARE STATE:

As Nye Bevan declared of the NHS, “It will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it.” They were prophetic words – but the same applies to the welfare state as a whole. It’s now under threat as never before. The principles of its founding fathers need to be spelled out loudly and clearly. It must be made clear that we don’t share the mindset of those in the Government who are deliberately destroying its foundations.

True, there have been commendable campaigns on a number of fronts. Resistance to changes in the NHS continues. There were those who were prepared to campaign on behalf of the disabled, affected by callous decisions made by ATOS. The fight to expose the impact of the bedroom tax carries on – and pensioners continue to fight their corner.

But what’s needed is a concerted campaign to bring the welfare state back to the people, on whose behalf it was built, brick by brick, in the first place. After all, surely its vision fits neatly into Miliband’s nation of “one nation” – doesn’t it?

And if we’re prepared to sit back, grumbling occasionally, and let it all be taken away, what kind of society are we leaving our children, and their children after them?

It will become merely a parody of Thatcher’s oft-quoted remark that “there’s no such thing as society – only individuals and their families”. Is that really what we want? A universal welfare system is what binds us all together. So let’s fight for it.

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