Those of you who were kind enough to read yesterday’s blog entry will know that I was disgusted with Liam Byrne, the shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, after he wrote an article for The Guardian that marked him (in my opinion) as a closet Tory. Or at least a collaborator. If you haven’t read that article, please feel free to go back and explore my arguments.
Having said all that I realise that some of you might feel justified in asking what sort of article I would have written in his place, given the chance. This is your chance to find out because that’s exactly what I’ve done. I’ve kept the same headline and intro paragraph, and some other material including the final paragraph are as Mr Byrne wrote them, but the rest is what I think he should have been saying.
I wonder if you’ll agree with me?
A William Beveridge for this century’s welfare state
Labour won’t win on welfare reform by default. On jobs and benefits we need another tough-minded social revolution.
If William Beveridge could see what has happened to his great plans for the future, he would be spinning in his grave.
I do not suggest this because his once-great political party has entered into an atrocious marriage-of-convenience with their once-bitter rivals, the Conservatives.
No, the reason I believe the great statesman’s body may be, even now, drilling its way to subterranean parts unknown is the terrible fate to which this coalition has Con-Dem’ned his ‘social insurance’ scheme – which you and I now call The Welfare State.
Beveridge argued that this system would provide a minimum standard of living “below which no-one should be allowed to fall”. It recommended that the government should find ways of fighting the five ‘Giant Evils’ of Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness. He included as one of his fundamental assumptions the fact that there would be a National Health Service of some sort, a policy already being developed by the Ministry of Health.
He saw full employment (defined as unemployment of no more than three per cent) as the pivot of his social welfare programme. Measures for achieving it included Keynesian-style fiscal regulation.
It took a Labour government to make this a reality, after the Cons called for the Beveridge report to be trimmed and delayed, and the Coalition’s plan to privatise the NHS in all but name, and its obstinate determination to avoid the wisdom of Keynes’ fiscal policy might be enough reason to believe that, 70 years after his famous report, his ideas have been ground beneath the heel of contempt.
Worst of all is the way his system is being abused in order to victimise the unemployed, the sick and the disabled. If Mr Beveridge were alive today, I am sure that this fact alone would kill him!
Beveridge’s system was built on the idea of full employment, so he would have been horrified at the long-term unemployment breaking out all over Britain. This is why the country needs Keynesian-style investment in new industry, creating new jobs. This would help eliminate Idleness, one of his five Giant Evils; guarantees that these jobs would pay a decent, living wage (and not just the bare minimum) would eliminate Want as well. Let’s not forget that the Credit Crunch, that led to the current huge national deficit, was caused by people whose wages couldn’t pay their costs, borrowing in order to make ends meet – and then finding they could not pay back their unsecured loans!
Beveridge would have been appalled at the spiralling cost of benefits, knowing as he did that investment in industry would bring those costs down. A larger, well-paid workforce means fewer people on benefits, and more taxes paid to support those who must rely on the State – such as the long-term sick and the disabled.
Contrast this with the current situation. The Coalition’s suicidal fixation with austerity has starved the UK of business investment to the point that more than 20 people are chasing every single available job. As a result, the benefits bill is much higher than the Treasury can comfortably accommodate, and it’s likely to increase!
And what is this government’s solution? It intends to limit housing benefit, so that any individual who cannot afford the rent for their residence will be slung out on their ear. It intends to time-limit unemployment benefits and has already begun offering inappropriate jobs to claimants – the classic is driving jobs for those without licences, in order to clear them off the books for a while. And it has employed Atos, an IT corporation, to carry out assessments of disability claimants using a tick-box questionnaire, instead of employing medical experts. It’s well-known that this company is under orders to get as many claimants as possible off the books and there is a wealth of evidence that shows this has led to a shocking amount of inaccuracy in the way Atos employees have filled out the forms. A survey by the Citizens Advice Bureau in Mid Wales found more than 40 per cent of those they questioned, who undertook the assessment, discovered serious errors – the answers input by the assessors were not the answers they had been given.
Labour is on the side of people who work hard and do the right thing. It is the purpose of government to provide the best conditions for this to happen. The Coalition has failed to do this on an epic scale.
But Labour won’t win on welfare reform by default. Seventy years on from Beveridge, it is time for Labour to take on this Liberal reformer’s ideas again, just as we did in the 1940s.
In rethinking the future, Beveridge’s first principles are the right place to begin.
Vox Political is funded entirely by donations and book sales.
You can make a one-off donation here:
Alternatively, you can buy the first Vox Political book,
Strong Words and Hard Times
in either print or eBook format here: