Last year I read with interest about the origins of our Welfare State system. I extended this reading by summarising my understanding in a piece of writing. I rediscovered this work and think it may be of interest to 2nd years as it was a good refresher for me. Note these are notes from my first year folder written by me.....perhaps Brian could comment on their accuracy if he ever gets around to reading this post.....
The Welfare State is a strong and necessary feature of this country. Generations were born into a country where healthcare, education and social services are so much a normal part of every day life that they are almost taken for granted. The flip side of this coin is that the services provided by the welfare state are costly to the working taxpayer and distribution is based largely on the government in power at the time policy – which according to the opposition – is always wrong!
Arguably, contemporary governments have a problematic task; managing a state welfare system that was introduced in a very different social climate. Originally, the welfare state promised care for its people “from the cradle to the grave” and was based largely on recommendations made by William Beveridge to Winston Churchill, during the 2nd World War. Beveridge proposed that in order for the country to recover from the effects of war; the government had a responsibility to address what he called “5 giant evils” of man. These were: Squalor, Idleness, Disease, ignorance and want; in other words, what people need to prosper, and so be economically useful for the good of the country, is good housing, employment, good healthcare, an education and poverty free. Attlee’s post war labour government adopted these recommendations and introduced free services of health and social services at the point of need and primary and secondary education (to the age of 15 – Education Act 1944) and a program to build new council houses for rent. Hence, they provided much needed optimism for a deflated war torn nation. Of course by the shear scale of the Welfare State, it’s not surprising that it’s successful operation would need to be constantly reviewed an adapted to the changing needs of the nation. Seven decades later, Welfare state reform is ongoing and topical.
A notable difference that has had a key impact on welfare state are; demographic changes. When the welfare state was introduced the typical working life for a man was 50 years, then 3 – 5 years in retirement before death. In contrast, the working life now is 30 – 35 years and retirement could feasibly be the same! Better welfare provision then creates a paradigm, since long term, people will live longer but them living longer creates a further burden on the state through elderly care and payment on pensions. Furthermore, as the country has become richer and it’s people more wealthy, it creates an imbalance of social cohesion and values amongst the population. When the welfare state was introduced following the 2 world wars; there was a strong sense of solidarity among the people, who had fought for the same cause, suffered loss together and endured real hardship. Typically after war, there is a strong sense of nationality and citizenship. On this basis, taking money from taxes and redistributing to the obvious benefit of the majority; was accepted – since everyone felt as if they shared the rewards. In contrast, in a more contemporary society, built on multi-cultures, and diverse individual values that are not universally shared, there is a sense of resentment between the taxpayer toward the benefit claimer, as they question “why should I fund them?” This evidence suggests that welfare state operates best in homogeneous societies; with intensely shared values as opposed to a more individualistic society, where people feel less towards their fellow citizens. Hence again, there is evidence of a conflict of interests since the country is seen to promote a multicultural and diverse society, which will effect the moral universal standards on which a large welfare state relies.
It could be interpreted that recent suggestions of compulsory citizenship classes in schools which may appear like a random attempt by the government to integrate a wealth of cultures Britishness, may actually be an attempt at reconstructing the lost universal values of the past. In fact, evidence suggests that the current government has adopted the stance that early intervention is the key to the future economic wellbeing of this country. Children since 1944 have a compulsory right to free education to the age of, at first 15, currently 16 and soon to be 18. It is evident that since 1997, Labour has placed education high on it’s political agenda, with a particular focus on early years. Educational Action Zones and Sure Start are clear examples of the government targeting deprived areas for improvement. This is evidence of a long term investment which it could be said that the government foresees as a way to ease the stress of the Welfare State in the future. The promotion of the Every Child Matters agenda, entitles every child to economic wellbeing and the government has pledged to eradicate child poverty by 2020. The plan for now is to get parents out to work by supplying affordable quality childcare which enhances the cared for child’s education. The vision for the future is that these children enter adulthood having received a better education, improving their skill base and prospects; they will have been primary socialised by working parents; hence will have learned that ‘adults work’ and so – they themselves will want to work. Also, since more people will be working and well aware that they are likely to live well beyond their retirement age, they will be able to afford to invest in their own pensions and have the security that their working children will look after them in their old age.
Of course, this plan all very optimistic and with any long term government vision of reform it must be viewed as an ongoing process; which is perhaps why the government has commissioned the EPPE study. The fact remains that, whilst no one can argue that society has transformed beyond recognition since 1945, Beveridge’s 5 Giant Evils are still fundamental to the prosperity of the countries economy.