Some arguments about the UK government's welfare reform programme - … not least because the present welfare state is their own, neoliberal, creation
- Category: Analysis
- Published on Tuesday, 21 October 2014
- Written by Richard Atkinson
- Some arguments about the UK government's welfare reform programme
- 1. They are not trying (very hard) to reduce welfare expenditure
- 2. They do not want, at all, to reduce welfare dependency
- 3. They are not interested in getting people into work...
- 4. ... because they don't know what to do with people when they are working
- 5. They are not, exactly, aiming to abolish the welfare state
- 6. … not least because the present welfare state is their own, neoliberal, creation
- 7. They are converting the DWP into a punitive arm of the state
- 8. They are looking to create a low waged, unskilled, precarious workforce
- 9. They are enforcing a patriarchal discipline on women and families by means testing
- 10. They are winning ...
- 11. ... and Universal Credit will seal their victory for a generation
- 12. They have a problem with pensioners, which they have yet to sort out
- 13. Labour are as deeply committed to these aims as the Tories
- 14. Why it’s Welfare, not Social Security
- 15. Why it’s back to 1601 not 1834
- 16. No-one asked for welfare
- 17. Against welfare: for class independence
- ADDENDUM - On proposals for an Unconditional Basic Income.
- All Pages
6. … not least because the present welfare state is their own, neoliberal, creation
The UK welfare system, as we now have it, is very largely a creation of the 1980’s and Thatcherism. Thatcher it was who began slicing away most of the 1948 vintage contributory system, and replacing it with means testing. Thatcher began the process of tightening discipline for unemployed claimants. Thatcher introduced new ‘in-work’ benefits (Housing Benefit from 1981) and expanded old ones - Family Income Supplement, introduced by the Heath government in 1970, but expanded massively under Thatcher and renamed Family Credit in 1986. She massively extended, instead of reducing, the scope of capitalist welfare. Council house sales were funded, for a time, directly by welfare payments while the parallel growth of private renting was, and is, underwritten by Housing Benefit. Thatcher again, or Major after her, closed all the old, lingering, Poor Law institutions. Those gigantic, Largactil sodden Gormenghasts, the mental hospitals that ringed London and other cities were replaced by community care while the land was sold off cheap. Council old peoples' homes were forced to close while private nursing homes mushroomed everywhere - and this new financial architecture for care was funded almost entirely from the ever expanding welfare budget.
Above all Thatcher created mass unemployment which changed fundamentally the meaning of welfare. A contributory, insurance based system cannot survive when it becomes a long term means of support for millions. And Thatcher deliberately ensured that was the fate of the generations cast off by her de-industrialisation - miners, factory workers, dockers and all their dependants - they were all carefully allowed welfare to fall back on. In fact, notoriously, they were systematically encouraged, throughout the eighties, to claim the more generous sickness and incapacity benefits in order to reduce unemployment figures. And so welfare became a badge of defeat and despair, associated only with wrecked communities carved open by heroin addiction, offering not security but degradation. Its subsequent fall in popular esteem, through the nineties, should not have been a surprise.
All Thatcher’s policies were continued by her epigones. But now that - after the miners’ strike - the threat of organised class opposition had been largely seen off, the need for a comfortable welfare cushion had passed. Gradually, incrementally, and above all under the Blair government, the pressure on welfare recipients could be increased - for their own good naturally. Because worklessness was bad for you and only work was good for you. And there was enough truth in this for it to influence people, provided only that you forgot who had created mass welfare, and in whose interests. And since the left believed - still believes today in large part - that they were duty bound to defend the system created by Beveridge and Bevan, never noticing that its meaning and social content had been transformed by Thatcher, we had no effective answer.