National Conversation: Welfare beyond left and right…

And as the dust settles on a fascinatingly complex result in the US election, we turn back to a question we first opened here with the National Conversation a few weeks ago, which is the reform of the welfare system.

It’s  not a particular complex problem. But it is socially contestable. Few on the left want to be associated with Tory reforms that come over as heart cruel and lacking in human decency, which is one of the chief virtues our first moot identifed as important about Beveridge’s settlement.

Claire Foster-Gilbert:

And yet, noted in our first Moot, we have problem. Welfare payments across Europe are rising with an age population and yet the concomminant will to tax accordingly is missing almost everywhere except some of the more communitarian countries of the north:

But there is also, as John Lloyd notes below, a sense that Welfare did the major part of its job in the first deployment of Welfare, when the problems being addressed by Beveridge where far more acute and particular:

The oft quoted problem (and not just by Tories and those on the right) of intergenerational worklessness resonants with the fourth of the Five Giant Evils of Beveridge’s groundbreaking report (via Wikipedia):

  • Squalor: Beveridge said that the main reason the country was in financial trouble was because those who were poorer could not afford to seek medical attention, and thus could not work, which furthermore created less income, and led to lack of labourers available.
  • Ignorance: Beveridge also believed that those who were in higher social class than those previously mentioned were ignorant to their role in a community. The National Insurance Act stopped this in 1946.
  • Want: This was supplying all in society with the basic needs to live within adequate living conditions
  • Idleness: Beveridge wanted everyone to have a job so he proposed the idea of the job centre so people in the streets were able to get a job.
  • Disease: Beveridge believed that disease was linked to financial trouble because sickness forces people to discontinue working.

Finally, it is worth considering Beveridge the man. Historian John Bew of UCL is writing a biography of Labour’s great post war Prime Minster Clem Atlee.

In this brief interview at the launch event of the Conversation on Welfare Reform, he notes that in many respects William Beveridge was a man apart from the party political forces of the time, and indeed, his report was not welcomed by either Labour or Conservatives at the time:

With this seeming inability for political parties to rise above the heartlessness of Tory reformers and the inexorable recession of deployable resource we ask what solutions might exist beyond the political binaries of individualist right and collectivising left?

If you want to join us directly, as usual you can sign up at the Google Plus Event page here…

More soon…

  • DC

    Can we have a national conversation on investment banking – beyond left and right: is it really socially useless?

    Funny how when the economy tanks, cuts to welfare seems to open a debate around the merits of welfare, rather than as to why it is actually being cut.

  • Mick Fealty

    It’s certainly not the optimal time to be making cuts, just when the economy is least able to provide viable alternatives to welfare. The point has been made to me that it would be better to contemplate reshaping the welfare system when the economy was all go.

  • DC

    I was thinking more so about putting capitalism under the spotlight, seeing as most people are waking up to the fact that it is no longer the simple answer, perhaps now it is the question? Or at least worthy of being questioned?

    Are the masters of the universe really the masters of the universe after all?

    In America perhaps re-election of Obama was proof of this, a Pinko comfort blanket, as the stomach wasn’t there to sign up to the prescriptions of the neo-liberal right, a rocky road down market forces way – that understandably people in the USA don’t want to travel down at this time. Sure haven’t they had decades of following down that road already, it’s only taken them to the doors of a massive financial crash.

    Same applies in Britain, debate welfare sure, but remember it’s only an offshoot of the bigger crisis.

  • Ruarai

    Mick – “It’s certainly not the optimal time to be making cuts, just when the economy is least able to provide viable alternatives to welfare. The point has been made to me that it would be better to contemplate reshaping the welfare system when the economy was all go.”

    -see the Chilean budget pre-08 as at least a reference flaws-n-all

    Let’s take a step back. Humanaity spends the last 100 years trying to figure out how to live 100 years.

    We figure it out – only to realize that we haven’t thought about how to be properly inclusive with seniors.

    This shouldn’t, first and foremost, be about the welfare state but about how we recalibrate our structures and values so that all these extra years we’ve strove to make possible are made productive and safe and appreciated.

  • Harry Flashman

    “I was thinking more so about putting capitalism under the spotlight”

    Ah yes, capitalism is the problem, funny then that the massive welfare states that everyone, including now Americans, seem so very fond of only exist in capitalist societies.

    No Cuba, China and North Korea do not provide welfare states; equality of misery does not amount to a welfare state.

    Go ahead abolish capitalism and set up the socialist utopia, I mean it’s not like it hasn’t been tried before, has it? One hundred million corpses stand as mute tribute to the attempts to set up egalitarian workers’ paradises from the Ukraine to Pnom Penh.

    The rest of us more rational people will prefer to stick with the system that has delivered unparallelled peace, progress, prosperity, scientific and educational breakthroughs, abundant harvests, affordable healthcare, comfort and happiness far and away in advance of any other system in the bleak history of mankind.

    As Obama might say, the 1930’s are on their line and they want their political ideologies back.

  • Mick Fealty

    Ideology is one of the problems that obviates any determination to have a cool headed conversation about Welfare (sorry Tac).

    The place it should properly take is in quantifying cost and then determining just how such costs are found. But there should be some mind given to what kinds of problems we are trying to solve, and perhaps that some of those problems need wider cultural responses.

    Employability issues come to mind for instances, particularly with people who have some form of disability.

    It’s sobering to read Beveridge’s original list of evils, and in fact during the initial Moot (, Fred Garnett offered these from Daniel Dorling’s book INJUSTICE; Why social inequality persists (2010):

    “From Ignorance to Elitism
    From Want to Exclusion
    From Idleness to Prejudice
    From Squalor to Greed (!)
    From Disease to Despair”

  • Rory Carr

    Steady on there, Harry. It’s only a proposal that we have a discussion. It’s not as if we have started to oil the tumbril wheels.


  • Mick Fealty

    Ah, you old stage revolutionaries… Now, whatabout the topic in hand?

  • Harry Flashman

    But seriously Rory, I mean this in all sincerity, you’ve lived all your life in an advanced capitalist society, like me you’re getting on a bit, though I think you’ve a decade or so on me, you’ve seen the phenomenal advances in society thanks to capitalism and how it has paid for the massive welfare state western people now take for granted.

    Now I know getting a rise out of the token right-winger on a weblog is always a bit of crack, but do you really not believe that capitalism, despite its many faults, is far and away the most beneficial system for human welfare and happiness ever established at any time in history?

    Has any alternative system to replace capitalism ever resulted in anything other than genocide, totalitarianism and famine?

  • Mick Fealty

    There’s some truth that Harry.

    But there is also legs in the idea that capitalism left to its own devices would never conceive of using a compulsory tax system to construct a social safety net for citizens.

    This is particularly true in the circumstances where international capital can interpenetrate economies across the world with mind-blowing ease.

    To some extent it raises issues around what new public goods are there that have the potential to ease the growing public burden on struggling states without dropping the poor and the fragile in it from a great and uncaring height?

  • Ruarai


    you say: “But there is also legs in the idea that capitalism left to its own devices would never conceive of using a compulsory tax system to construct a social safety net for citizens.”

    You’re legless Mick. Could you name a single advocate of Capitalism who advocated no safety nets?

    There is a debate – – always has been, always will be – about the size and nature of the net but who’s advocating the use of nets per se? Red Herring

  • Harry Flashman

    What many people fail to understand is that capitalism is not a political system in the way that socialism, communism or fascism are.

    It’s merely a way of doing business, capitalism existed and thrived in social democratic Sweden in precisely the same way it did in apartheid South Africa or Pinochet’s Chile. The biggest nation in the world is run by the Communist party and yet it is proving itself to be the fastest developing and most successful capitalist society on the planet.

    Capitalism is neither moral nor immoral, it is merely a tool to be used. It’s like fire or the internet, it can be used for good purposes or bad. For the most part due to the happy fact that it emerged at the time of the Enlightenment and the Reformation in early modern western Europe and helped spawn the Industrial Revolution capitalism has provided immense benefits to mankind.

    To blame capitalism for the ills of the world is as illogical as blaming wheels, steel or petroleum for the Second World War.

  • Mick Fealty


    What Harry just said. BTW, I made no mention of capitalism or markets in the post above. I was trying contextualise DC’s slightly off piste contribution.

    Posting again on this later this morning…