Tag Archives: Beveridge

Why D-Day and the victory over Nazism must be linked to the welfare state and the NHS


A veteran’s view: Click on the image to read Harry Leslie Smith’s Guardian article.

I was disturbed, this morning, to read that parts of the media were trying to silence people who had created images and sites linking D-Day and its 70th anniversary with the National Health Service – its creation and current problems.

The comment was made by an organisation calling itself The Labour Forum and ran: “D-Day and the NHS have nothing to do with each other. Whatsoever. Any photos trying to link today’s political issues with D-Day are offensive and will be deleted immediately.”

This seems extremely strange to me because, from what I have read, the creation of the NHS and a ‘welfare state’ (the term did not actually enter the Oxford English Dictionary until 1955) were exactly what the soldiers at Normandy were fighting so steadfastly to ensure.

When Britain went to war in September 1939, it was woefully ill-prepared for the task. Our professional army was not a match for Germany’s well-nourished, well-trained and well-equipped war machine (Germany’s welfare state had been ushered in by Otto von Bismarck during the 19th century). Not only that, but the crop of recruits brought in by conscription was a step in the wrong direction, being untrained, in poor health and malnourished after 20 years of Conservative rule.

Yet these were the men who were going to win the war, supported by equally poorly-served women, youngsters, and pensioners on the Home Front.

We know the first few years of the war went badly for Britain. We were forced out of Europe and attempts to create a front in Africa found themselves on uneven ground.

Then came the Beveridge report, Social Insurance and Allied Services. It was written by the Liberal Sir William Beveridge, who had been tasked with carrying out the widest social survey yet undertaken – covering schemes of social insurance and – as stated – allied services.

He went far beyond this remit, instead calling for an end to poverty, disease and unemployment by fighting what he called the five giants on the road to reconstruction – Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness – and claiming to supply the means to do so.

His plan dealt mainly with Want and Disease, proposing a system of social insurance against the interruption and destruction of earning power and a National Health Service for the prevention and cure of disease and disability, and for rehabilitation.

Winston Churchill (who was of course Prime Minister at the time) privately made clear his concern at the “dangerous optimism” created by the report’s proposals. In public, although he could not attend a debate on a Labour motion that – significantly – called for the early implementation of the plan as a test of Parliament’s sincerity, he sent a message saying it was “an essential part of any post-war scheme of national betterment”. But he refused to “tie the hands of future Parliaments” by starting any legislation to bring the plan into effect.

I quote now from The Welfare State, by Pauline Gregg (George S Harrap & Co, 1967): “To refuse its immediate acceptance, to refuse to make public any plan for its immediate post-War implementation, even if not for its implementation then and there, was to the people betrayal… You cannot refuse to welcome a saviour without being suspected of not wishing to be saved – or, at best, of being so blind that you do not know salvation when you see it!”

The social and economic questions that most troubled the electorate in 1944 were housing and jobs – as they should be today. But the wartime coalition broke over arguments about housing, and Churchill’s Conservatives refused to commit to full employment, as demanded by Beveridge. Instead it proposed that “a high and stable level of employment” should be one of its primary responsibilities, with no legislation planned on the grounds that employment could not be created by government alone.

This is why Labour won the 1945 election with such a landslide. The people expected the Tories to betray them when peace was restored, and they could not back Beveridge’s Liberals because they were afraid of half-measures.

And the people – both those who fought as soldiers and those who supported them at home – were determined that their war would mean something; that it would create a better future. They wanted Beveridge’s plan for social security and they absolutely demanded a national health service.

That is why they were prepared to fight so hard, and even die for their cause. Not the continuation of a British government that couldn’t care less about them until it needed cannon fodder – but the creation of a new system, in which every citizen had value and could rely on the support of their fellows.

It was a system that enjoyed success – albeit to varying degrees – right up to the early 1970s when Edward Health tried to replace it with neoliberalism. He failed but he paved the way for Margaret Thatcher, Nicholas Ridley and Keith Joseph to turn Britain into the mess it is today.

And here we sit, on the 70th anniversary of D-Day, facing exactly the same issues as our parents and grandparents did back then.

Do we want a National health service? Or are we content to allow a gang of money-worshipping bandits to turn it into a profit machine for their own enrichment while our health returns to pre-1939 conditions? Rickets and tuberculosis have already returned. What next?

Do we want a housing boom for the rich, while the workers and the poor lose the benefits that allowed them to keep a roof over their heads (pay having dropped below the level at which people can cover all their bills without help from the state)?

Do we want a job market that deliberately ensures a large amount of unemployment, in order to keep wages down and ensure that the lower echelons don’t forget that their place is to serve aristocrats like Jacob Rees-Mogg?

Or shall we remember the sacrifices made by our forefathers on D-Day and throughout the war, and demand better?

The choice is yours – and no ‘Labour Forum’ has the right to stop you discussing it.

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Why we’ll never have full employment – even though we need it

austeritydolequeueToday Vox Political is offering a guest blog, for your edification and education. Graeme Beard wrote the following in response to ‘Millionaire’s government will make paupers of us all’. It’s far too long for me to put in the ‘Comment’ section of that article but far too interesting to let it go unpublished. Therefore I am reproducing it as an article in its own right. If anyone else has anything they want to get off their chests, I’ll happily consider other submissions as well.

Over to Graeme:

OK – well let’s get something rather nasty out of the way first. Austerity for the masses is an extremely efficient and effective macro-economic device. Absolutely counter-productive and even destructive to a consumer based economy it is the best way by far, (apart from slavery) on a macro-economic level to shift money from the pockets of the poor to the pockets of the rich.

Make no mistake, the austerity measures being introduced are moving £Billions ‘upward’. None will come ‘downward’. The national debt will be paid off by the poor and the poorer. It will not, and is not being paid off by the rich and affluent. They are untouched and seem to be untouchable. In fact the rich and affluent are seeing their personal wealth increase at an incredible rate.

The following is a global perspective but it applies just as strongly to the UK. The rich are enjoying a boom time and for this particular conspiracy theorist I am of the opinion that it is a deliberate measure. They want it all.

Secondly, let’s state the ‘bleedin obvious’: We live in a consumer society. Like it or not – want to change it or not – it’s what we got, playmates. To that end we have to play the ‘consumer game’ cards in hand. There is no choice. It is a given.

A consumer society (be it local, national or global) depends almost entirely on consumers having a disposable income. That is, money above and beyond that which they need purely to survive. If they do not have a disposable income over and above that needed to satisfy their basic needs such as food, clothing, utility bills, shelter etc then, in many ways, they become what economists call ‘non-consumers’.

For instance, they can’t spend money on what some would consider to be luxury goods like new or used motor cars, or books, or education, or to replace a cooker or fridge that’s on its way out. They make-do, make-shift and mend. Their ‘extra’ spending on consumer goods (the very goods we need to be purchased by consumers in order for the economy not only to grow, but survive) is dead in the water. If they haven’t got it they can’t spend it. The more that have no – or diminishing – disposable income, the more the economy will contract.

It’s happening now and there’s more to come. Far more. People thrown out of work, because of slowing demand or even a demand crash in consumer goods they make or services they provide, or those that become disabled and draw state benefits, are a prime example. They do little more than survive and become non-consumers above subsistence in double quick time. Ergo they are lost to the consumer society. It is a downward spiral and the Multiplier Effect takes over in negative form. See below.

Now this is not rocket science and can plainly be seen repeatedly with only a cursory glance at macro-economic history. Don’t believe me? Look for yourself! To introduce and pursue measures of austerity for the mass of the population in an attempt to ‘heal’ a consumer economy is like trying to catch hold of the world by the arse and pull it uphill.

These austerity measures are either being pursued in ignorance (which I find very hard to believe) or as a deliberate measure to engorge the rich and affluent at the expense of the poor.

For 35 years, post-Second World War, the UK had full employment. Bankrupted by the conflict and in massive national debt, the population was fully employed; the NHS was introduced; the welfare system proposed by ‘The Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Social Insurance and Allied Services.’ (The Beveridge Report) was adopted and applied with vigour. People had jobs with disposable income; they consumed (and in quantity – demand for consumer goods went through the roof); tax incomes to the government went up enormously; numbers of people on benefits were minuscule (they had jobs); the construction industry went off ‘bang!’; etc etc. I’m sure you get the drift. John Maynard Keynes’ ‘Multiplier Effect’ in motion and this time in positive mode.

Bit of a problem though! Full employment came with a terrible cost. It gave those in employment power – mainly the power to withdraw their labour and expertise.

And that’s the reason we will never have full employment in the UK ever again.

It gives people at the bottom power and those at the top really don’t want that. They need the sticks of unemployment and poverty for them to sustain their lifestyles.   People on the breadline and/or in debt or under threat keep their heads down, live smaller and smaller, and consume less and less in the hope it will eventually, by some kind of magic, get better. It rarely does.

In concert with that, and at the very same time, those who feel insecure and threatened but are in decently-paid jobs and who could shut down their spending too and save more and more for their (maybe) ‘rainy day’ are also removed, if only in part, from the consumer society that we all depend on.

So, actually impoverishing consumers – the very consumers who could – and, history shows, would – drag this economy out of the faecal mess that the cretinous politicians and bankers put us in in the first place, means they are unable to do so – because they are struggling with ‘austerity measures’ and seeing their disposable income decrease alarmingly.

Full employment, as dangerous to those ‘above’ as it may be, is good for a consumer society. Taxes are paid alongside National Insurance contributions; welfare payments reduce exponentially because people have jobs; demand for consumer goods increases and, via the ‘multiplier effect’, more jobs come online and more money is made available to spend. It is an upward spiral.

If you want to heal a consumer economy, don’t introduce more disease. Austerity for the masses is exactly that – a disease – to a consumer society. Don’t believe me though – gawd forbid! Look around you, because it’s happening now, and happening just about everywhere apart from the more affluent areas of the UK.

And that, in part, is why our towns as a working example are full of charity shops, pawnbrokers, and people wanting to buy your surplus gold for two and a half buttons so they can get rich and you can eat or heat next week.

As an addendum: http://www.ted.com/talks/richard_wilkinson.html?utm_source=newsletter_weekly_2011-10-25&utm_campaign=newsletter_weekly&utm_medium=email

What William Beveridge might have really wanted for the modern welfare state

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.

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The peril of ill-chosen words

“It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt,” according to Abraham Lincoln. That is something that Liam Byrne would have been well-advised to consider before he put pen to paper for The Guardian this week.
Mr Byrne, the shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, in his article ‘A William Beveridge for this century’s welfare state’ claims that the UK welfare system needs reform. Unfortunately, the language he uses – and the points he omits – led this reader to think this Labour front-bencher supports the Coalition Tory/Lib Dem government in its plans to slash the benefits bill by cheating honest, deserving claimants out of their entitlement.
Have a quick look at the article, then I’ll explain.

All done? Right. Consider the following:
Isn’t it strange that Mr Byrne, a Labour front-bencher, chooses to identify with a late member of the Liberal Party who (although admittedly a great man) would have been on the opposite side of the House of Commons, if he were alive today? What makes Mr Byrne think he can assume he knows what Mr Beveridge would have wanted anyway? Isn’t that the old trick of using a historical figure who can’t speak for himself to support Mr Byrne’s view? To me, this indicates sympathy with the government’s position from the get-go.
This supposition is borne out by his words. Mr Byrne writes: “He [Mr Beveridge] would scarcely have believed housing benefit alone is costing the UK over £20bn a year. That is simply too high.” Notice he doesn’t say anything about how the benefit bill should come down – simply that it is too high. So the reader fills in the blanks as follows: “This man supports the Conservative plan to cut the amount of housing benefit paid to individuals and force them out of their homes”. (The Conservative plan is to limit the amount of housing benefit payable to any individual; if this amount means they can’t afford to stay in a particular residence, they’ll be out on their ears).
In fact, the bill is too high because the current government either can’t afford or doesn’t want to pay it. The solution is to get more people into well-paid work – that way, they wouldn’t need to claim housing benefit and would also be helping to pay down the deficit that’s putting the government off welfare benefits in the first place. However, it was a lack of decent pay that caused the Credit Crunch in 2008 and led to the huge national deficit that working- and middle-class people are having to pay off now; people were borrowing because they were falling into debt – and then of course they defaulted on the loans. How were they supposed to pay them back? Let’s move on.
“He [Beveridge]would have wanted reform that was tough-minded, and asked everyone to work hard to find a job.” ‘Everyone’ in this case including people whose ESA (and soon, DLA) claims have been turned down, despite their illnesses, because of a system run by a private company that has been ordered to cut people off? (The government has employed a Atos, an IT corporation, to carry out assessments of disability 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 this has led to a shocking amount of inaccuracy in the way Atos employees have filled in the forms. A survey by the Citizens Advice Bureau in Mid Wales found more than 40 per cent of those who undertook the assessment discovered serious errors – the answers being input by the assessors were not the answers they had been given)
“He never foresaw unearned support as desirable.” So people on benefits are on ‘unearned support’, are they? That’ll be extremely unpalatable for everyone who was ever laid off after years of faithful service, having fully paid all their taxes and National Insurance; also to those on sickness benefits who acquired their disability in the workplace or because of the work they were doing, as well as everyone who had a job for any length of time before becoming disabled.
“‘Something for something’ means reward for those who are desperately trying to do the right thing, saving for the future and trying to build a stable, secure home.” As opposed to ‘benefits scroungers’, to use the language of the Conservative-led coalition?
“Social security has to change.” The Coalition in power at the moment has been changing it. In these five words alone, Mr Byrne can be read as supporting their agenda.
The language Mr Byrne uses places him firmly in the Tory camp: Tories want radical reform of the benefits system (to make it harder for people to claim, as we all know from the Atos experience). Mr Byrne wants to know “how we become the radical reformers once again”.
The Tories don’t want to pay benefits and intend to change the terms under which they are received to cut the cost. Mr Byrne writes that Mr Beveridge (with whom he’s identifying, let’s not forget) would be “appalled at the spiralling cost of benefits”.
Mr Byrne writes: “He would have wanted reform that was tough-minded, and asked everyone to work hard to find a job.” The Tories want everyone to work hard to find a job – even when, as we all know, there aren’t any jobs to find.
The sad aspect of this is that Mr Byrne missed a golden opportunity: If he had said that Beveridge might not have agreed with his party’s current stance; if he’d said he believed Beveridge would have been horrified by the Coalition’s plans to disenfranchise disabled benefits claimants – whether they deserved to lose the cash or not – then he might have scored significantly against the current government. He didn’t do this; instead, he appeared to side with them. At a time when it is vital for Labour to ensure it is seen as different from the Coalition, Mr Byrne has ensured that readers see only the similarities.
Also, although he is the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Mr Byrne is allowed to have opinions about other aspects of government, and also about which of these should be reformed first. Ask a child which is more important to stop – something that deprives us of £25bn a year (such as the way wealthy corporations and individuals are failing to pay the taxes they owe) and something that takes only £1bn (benefit fraud in the UK) and you know what answer you’d get.
I accept that Mr Byrne doesn’t say people who need benefits should go without them. The problem is, he doesn’t say they should NOT go without them, either.
He does not demand an end to the unfair Atos assessments or propose a fairer system, even though all he has to do is challenge the Coalition to introduce such a system; he doesn’t have to spell out the details for them.
At the root of the whole debacle is the saddest fact of all – that Labour has been tacitly supporting this attack on the disabled for far too long. It’s a policy that mocks the efforts of honest working people who have been, through no fault of their own, forced to claim the state benefits that their taxes have supported for so many years. That’s what many people are concerned about and arguing against.
It’s time for Mr Byrne to change his tune – along with the rest of the Labour front bench. Otherwise, who are they fighting for? Ed Miliband’s ‘Squeezed Middle’ is important, but is only one small part of society. Labour will not win the popular victory it needs if it gains middle class support at the expense of everybody else.

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