For many, the proverbial knife in the back of the welfare state came during the Thatcher Premiership of the 1980's. The reforms taken on social security, welfare and education was seen as a sign that the Conservatives could not be trusted with the system designed on the basis of the Beveridge report to look after the Nation's poorest. Despite taking a pragmatic approach, the distain for welfare was evident in the mindset of the Hayek based economics of the Thatcher reigime. The ideology was clear, provide the wealthy with a free reign and low taxes, and the wealth created would take care of the poor without need for Big Government. The welfare state, standing in the way of a free market was therefore seen as a drain on the Economy. The Reforms to the NHS make this belief evident. Perhaps based on naivety, Thatcher changed the way the service was run, making the not-for-profit organisation more based on a business like model. Set against the backdrop of economic stagnation, it is perhaps clear to see why Thatcher had the mindset she did. Yet, the welfare state survived the assault, and came out a better and more streamlined service. However, the view that the Conservatives were cold hearted and cared very little for the poorest citizens emerged and had seemingly stayed that way.
Then, almost like a Hollywood story line, a new, more caring and understanding figure emerged out of the party. David Cameron, with his new 'compassionate conservatism', running on a mandate to protect the NHS and care for the most needy apparently signaled a shift towards a new type of Liberal conservative view. The acknowledgment of Society itself proved to many that Cameron was not another Thatcher. British politics was seemingly in a new type of consensus over social issues. Much like a Hollywood storyline, it all seemed too good too be true.
And it was.
This week David Cameron has set out perhaps the most fundamental reforms of the Welfare state since its creation under the Atlee Premiership. Early indications of a fresh attack on welfare was seen in the Health and Social care bill, described by the British medical Journal as a stepping stone to Privatisation. Opening the NHS up to private companies, with the disguise of 'reducing bureaucracy' shows the intent of this Government to reduce the role of the state. More recently, the decision to remove housing benefits from under 25's signal an attack on the youth. Further reforms include removing the link between benefits and inflation, banning school leavers from going straight on benefits and restricting child benefit on parents with more than three children. The worrying thing is that many of these reforms would seem to be 'common sense' to many people. The media's obsession with reporting extreme cases of parents with 8 children claiming 3 figures from the state, or the parents who haven't had a job in 10 years, making it sound as if such cases are the norm. Yet the reality is that the distinction Mr Cameron has made between 'hard workers' and 'benefit claimers' is blurred. Many on benefits are extremely hard workers. In reality, they are often the same thing.
Furthermore, the argument that we have no choice in the economic climate but to cut and save money is complete folly. John Maynard Keynes would be mortified with what this Government are doing if the great man was still alive. Evidence from the USA show that spending and creating jobs, as opposed so saving and cutting, is the most efficient way to escape from recession. Growth in the American economy puts the UK to shame. Perhaps this is due to the shockingly short sighted and distorted view that the UK government is taking. Take the decision to cut benefits to the parents of children with disability. The short term savings are immense to the ignorant eye, but the long term effects are dire. How, for example, are parents supposed to work if hey cannot afford to send their child to respite? Working for a Charity for disabled children, ELHAP, i have seen the number of children being funded to use the facilities drop dramatically since the reforms. The long term effects on the economy will also, i would assume, be just as dramatic.
Lets look at the other end of the spectrum. Talks to abolish the 50p rate of tax on top earners is shocking enough. Yet, in reality, many of the super rich avoided such taxes anyway. The example of Phillip Green, owner of the Arcadia group of high street brands such as Top Shop, who avoids paying tax through the Non-Dom status of his wife. Ideologically, these reforms show that Cameron is not a lot different from the Iron Lady herself. The student riots and recent riots staring in Tottenham were written off as opportunistic hooligans fronting with Anarchy. Yet, they must off shocked the government into the realisation that the people are becoming frustrated with the do as you like attitude taken on the rich.
The reforms, therefore are two fold. Achieve the ideological ambitions of the Thatcherite stories, by slowly killing off the welfare state. Secondly, the divide the poor and the poorer, by creating the view that one is hard working and the other isn't, distracting them both from the actions of the bourgeoisie. Class warfare used against the people just as Patriotism was by Thatcher.
One thing is for sure though. Clement Atlee would be turning in his grave.
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