Tag Archives: want

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

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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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Housing association speaks out over Bedroom Tax

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It seems the chief executive of a local housing association has taken issue with yr obdt srvt over the Bedroom Tax.

Shane Perkins, of Mid Wales Housing, wrote to the Powys-based County Times after I used that paper to expose an illegal action by the county council’s ruling group, aimed at preventing discussing of a motion for the council to adopt a ‘no-eviction’ policy.

The motion asked the council not to evict tenants who fail to pay their rent because of the Bedroom Tax. Councillors who are also private landlords were forbidden from speaking or voting on the motion as they stand to benefit if social housing tenants are forced to seek accommodation with them as a result of the vindictive policy, and this meant 30 councillors had to leave the chamber.

Members of the ruling group, realising there was a real possibility of the motion being carried, then claimed that any councillors who are social housing tenants should also be barred from taking part – a move that is against the law (to the best of my knowledge). My understanding is that a ‘general dispensation’ allows councillors who are council tenants to take part in debates on, and vote on, matters relating to council housing.

Mr Perkins, writing in the paper’s December 20 edition, suggests that it is almost impossible to establish whether or not a tenant has fallen into rent arrears solely as a consequence of the “pernicious” (his word) Bedroom Tax, and claims that the motion was “a meaningless ‘political’ statement”.

He makes the point that it may be possible to apply the policy where the tenant has never previously been in rent arrears, but this would be unfair on other tenants who are similarly affected now but had fallen into arrears for other reasons in the past. He asks why tenants who struggle to meet their rent payments should not receive a financial subsidy or reward for being a good and conscientious tenant; and also points out that the cumulative effect of other regressive changes to benefits is also likely to affect the rent payments of vulnerable people and, to be consistent, Labour’s motion should encompass them also.

He says all social landlords, including the council, will seek to advise and support tenants who are in financial difficulty, but “in the final analysis, if a tenant fails to pay their rent, the ultimate sanction has got to be eviction.

“To do otherwise would be irresponsible, as ultimately the cost of one tenant not paying their rent is borne by all those tenants that do pay, and spiralling arrears will ultimately affect the viability of the council’s housing, which will serve none of its tenants.”

It would be easy to pick holes in his arguments. The whole point of government policy is to make sure that nobody gets a penny more than the Conservative-led Coalition decides they should have – and this government wants to drive people into poverty – so there will be no rewards for hard work. The Labour Party, and non-political groups, has campaigned ceaselessly to force the government into assessing the cumulative impact of its changes to the benefit system, but the government has refused all such calls, knowing as it does that such research would reveal the monstrous truth about its attack on the poorest in society.

If Mr Perkins is really interested, then he should encourage his own MP to support the call for such an assessment in the debate on the ‘WoW’ Petition, due to take place in the House of Commons in the New Year. I helped write that document, which calls for (among other things) “a cumulative impact assessment of welfare reform”. Labour is supporting the motion. I would suggest, therefore, that any criticism of Labour for making a “meaningless ‘political’ statement” is unfounded.

As for the difference between tenants affected by the Bedroom Tax who have never been in arrears before, and those affected by it who have – this should be something a social landlord can track, especially if they are actively seeking to “advise and support” tenants. This support should include examination of a tenants income and outgoings, before and after the Tax was imposed.

The simple fact is that Mr Perkins would move offending tenants into smaller houses if he had any, but he doesn’t. He would not be talking about eviction if he did. He never built them and we must conclude that he never saw the need. Perhaps he believed that the welfare state would continue to support his tenants.

William Beveridge, the architect of that system, in the report that bears his name, said the British government should fight what he called the “giant evils” of society, including Want.

How could Beveridge know that, 70 years later, the British government would be actively increasing Want, wherever it could. That is what the Bedroom Tax, and the benefit cap, and all the other cuts brought in by this spiteful Conservative-led Coalition are about.

These measures are crimes against the citizens of this country – citizens who have paid into the State, generation after generation since the 1940s, believing that it would look after them if the spectre of Want cast its shadow at their door.

Mr Perkins describes the changes as “pernicious”, but if he allows a single tenant to be evicted then he will be a willing accomplice.

That is what he is saying when he tells us he is prepared to use this “final sanction”.

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