Rhodri Morgan, the former First Minister of Wales, gives his thoughts on four aspects of Margaret Thatcher.
Thatcher’s benefits legacy
Margaret Thatcher’s death happened on the very day that the coalition government cuts started to the overblown sickness and disability benefit system—the irony is that this was a system that Thatcher herself created.
When I became an MP in 1987, unemployment stood at 3m: two and a half times higher than in 1979. Thatcher appointed David, now Lord Young, to stop the inexorable rise. (She famously praised Young, saying that while some ministers “bring me problems, David brings me answers!”)
The answers to unemployment were threefold: first, change the way the statistics were collected; second, get as many people onto Manpower Sevices schemes as possible; and third and most pernicious of all, encourage GPs to sign people on to permanent sickness or disability benefit. These people were effectively removed from the dole queue and in this way the number of unemployed was controlled. This was fine, so long as these was money from North Sea oil to fund it, but it is unaffordable now that the gusher is running dry. It is much harder to get people back into the workforce than onto disability benefits.
When I became First minister of Wales in 2000, I saw the startling statistics on long-term Sickness and Disability dependence: 14 per cent of working age Welsh adults were on it. That figure rose to an astonishing 25 per cent in Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr. We got the Welsh figure down to 12 per cent by 2005, by which time our Welfare to Work programmes were undermined by Eastern European immigration.
For true Thatcherite believers, this may contradict the notion that she was needed because she had the backbone, which Edward Heath did not, to take on the unions and to get the country back to work.
I joined the old Department of Trade and Industry as an Economic Adviser in January 1972, right in the middle of the Big U-turn. Was it all bad? After all, if Heath hadn’t had the courage to nationalise Rolls-Royce in late 1971 thereby saving the RB 211 Rolls Royce engine from the scrapheap, there would be very little base for the coalition government’s strategy of re-industialising and re-balancing of…