Recently, a friend of mine and I have been discussing the past political systems. It was part of this conversation that my friend said that she did not mind Margaret Thatcher because ‘she ran the country like a business’. I was taken aback. Though I tried not to be, I couldn’t contain the inner left wing fight in me; ‘Yeah, if the business is failing and being forced to close like BHS’ I scoff in response. ‘Tories just wanna cut everything down and sell it off’.
My friend then went on to explain that she simply thinks that too many people rely on the welfare state. It is not an uncommon thought process. Often the welfare state seems to be over-saturated with people clinging to it, like someone has dropped the loo roll into the toilet, fished it out and left it on the top of the cistern. At least that is how the (right-wing) media seems to likes to paint it.
In the United Kingdom, the welfare state was a system that meant the government comprises expenditures in a way to improve health, education, social security and employment. It is often referred to as an example of a liberal welfare state system, meaning it is designed to benefit everyone and raise a level of equality for all the citizens.
We see the first stages of this style of thinking appear in the Elizabethan period. With the Elizabethan Poor Law enshrined this right with the practice of sturdy and less sturdy beggars being sent back to their parish of origin ostensibly for help. Although later modified, this system, remained largely intact until the offensive launched by the Utilitarian reformers. Lloyd George is often credited for the invention the concept, however it seems that he, alongside a young Winston Churchill may have simply refined an already existing logic and pushed it to the hands of the state.
We see national health and a more limited coverage of the expense as well as unemployment insurance were introduced by the 1911 Act. Parliament laid out their levels of contribution to the system and benefits that could be taken out, but friendly societies and mutually-owned bodies operated the health scheme at the time.
One of the fundamental characteristics of the entire idea behind the NHS is that treatment is based on clinical need, not ability to pay. Everyone receives treatment appropriate to their condition. The idea of quality is so deeply embedded within the NHS, that it is no wonder that those who believe that the world should be based upon status and privilege should want to destroy the NHS: such a beacon of equality threatens the mere existence of conservative thought. But such conservative thought had been codified into the last few Tory Parities governments – that started with the Coalition’s Health and Social Care Act until the present – and our NHS, the most important part of the welfare state, is under threat.
David Cameron’s miniature reign featured a plan for the ‘Big Society’. This concept basically worked along the logic that friendly societies, charities and non-profit groups would step in and looking after those among society that are suffering. The whole idea palmed off those in need from the government and placed them in to smaller, less secure hands. A former economics tutor of Cameron’s stated at the time that the idea of a ‘Big Society’ was actually a very 19th Century view — where the Salvation Army would help you out if you were in need – except if you were gay (yeah, look it up).
The welfare state is one of the crowning gems of the UK. Tax credits, for example, allows people/families of lower economic to make ends meet. They are also intended to lift families out of welfare dependency and incentivise people to work – before their introduction, most benefits were withdrawn as soon as someone returned to work. These are not only used for people who are ‘poor’, if you are eligible people quite often will automatically get them just to help out. Child tax credits are an absolute God-send if you have ‘dependants’ – which is the legal phrasing for child. This can help keep the kids in socks for school, or paying for, you know, food for them to eat — whatever it is that children really need to grow and flourish.
There are arguments to be made about how far the welfare state should cover large masses. Perhaps their is a way to ‘trim the fat’ as it were without cutting the whole cow in half. I do feel that the intentions of the welfare state were initially good but as most things in life it was not black nor white. Every one should have the basic right to certain things – education, health care, social security and employment – and by cutting bits off at a time we are left with little to offer people. We cannot help it if we are not all born into the 1% and have to work hard for a living but I’ll be darned if that means I suffer for it. I definitely think the people to reform it should not be a Tory government but someone a little less concerned on keeping rich with their buddies. Perhaps people who work in those sectors should be advisors to the government on how best to manage spending budgets and what areas need immediate fixing. A select committee of nurses, doctors, teachers, administration staff, employment experts and others who are in the know of what the welfare needs in order to provide sufficiently. Give a voice to junior doctors and nurses, stop hammering teachers for percentages and actually invest back into proper apprenticeship schemes that would allow a new generation to move through and up on to the employment ladder and into society.
The welfare state was a way for the government, the people we elected to represent us, to help people who were in need when not everyone else can help individually. It is not as though everyone who earns over a certain amount (that amount would be a figure that meant you could live comfortably and be able to give some away without it meaning you had to cancel your Netflix) gives regularly to those in need. By giving everyone a close enough playing field and advantage from the beginning we are ensuring a brighter future.
The conversation with my friend ended by her explaining why she, as a PGCE trainee teacher, was enraged with the pressures the government were putting on schools. ‘They just seem to care about figures and results. Not really about the students.’ There was a slight silence in the room before I replied; ‘They’re just running it like a business.’ She glared back at me; ‘Not helpful.’ I won that one I think to myself, though it feels a hollow victory.
This content is one individual's opinion and does not represent the opinion of The Galleon. If you disagree with this article or have any further comment to make please email email@example.com.