People are calling for a return to the first principles of the welfare state, but politicians can't get thereby Philip Collins / May 22, 2013 / Leave a comment
William Beveridge, creator of the “welfare state” hated the term, believing that the heavy hand of the state crowded out private enterprise (© Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
The welfare state began, 70 years ago, with the famous tears of William Beveridge. When he received the request from Arthur Greenwood, the Labour minister responsible for reconstruction, to write a report on social insurance, the darts pricked Beveridge at the back of his eyes.
He wasn’t crying with delight at being offered his chance to erect a monument to himself. He was deeply upset that he had been denied the task he most cherished, to be in charge of manpower on the home front. This tidying up of welfare was a poor consolation prize. In the event, Beveridge’s Report on Social Insurance and Allied Services achieved two remarkable things. It sold over half a million copies and, with the sponsorship of Clement Attlee’s post-war government, it changed the country.
Yet not quite in the way that Beveridge ever envisaged or wanted. The welfare state of 2013 is unrecognisable from the one he thought he was ushering into being. This is in part the upshot of social change that nobody could have foreseen. A large rise in the employment of women and a much older society, the origins of which were happening in the early years of the welfare state, has completely altered the pattern of welfare.
As a result, the welfare bill has mushroomed and consent for the welfare state has begun to fall. In 1993, 55 per cent of people told the British Attitudes Survey that a life on benefits meant a life of hardship. Now just 19 per cent of the British people feel the same way. Thirty per cent say that the poor have brought their poverty upon themselves and even though, at a best estimate, one in 50 welfare claims are fraudulent, the British people think that every fourth claim is a scam.
The problem with welfare is not principally its scale, although in a country struggling to pay off the bills of profligacy the cost is grave. Beveridge’s “Five Giant Evils”—want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness—have been replaced by the New Giants of the state pension (£83. 6bn), the NHS (£106bn), housing benefit (£21.1bn) and the earning and support allowance (£9.8bn).
Yet the disillusionment that is…