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…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty