Sometimes, just sometimes we need to go to the past to find the answers for the future.
The mid 1940’s were an inspirational time. Yes, despite having suffered from a World War ; a time of despair, in a time of massive govt debt. Arose from the ashes like a Phoenix where the wings of welfare. A welfare system that was revolutionary, radical and quite frankly awe inspiring.
But somewhere along the way we have lost the founding principles of the welfare State. Its important to stand like a rock with principles otherwise the clearness evaporates and changes occur which may not benefit a nation. Systems that were once simple become complicated. Complications that can cause hardships that a welfare state was mean’t to prevent. The welfare state has always been a mix of universal, contributory & means-tested principles. But the contributory principle has declined over time. The balance needs to be restored. I first became concerned with the decline the Contributory principle in the early 90’s.
You may ask – why in the 90’s – surely this has happened for decades. Yes perhaps that has been the case. But I worked for the Department of Employment, and then Department of Social Security – now the DWP in the 90’s. I saw the changes brought in by a previous Conservative Govt under John Major. At the time, I remember thinking, this isn’t right. Watering down the contributory element of welfare. I have always believed that a contributory system is a backbone of the welfare state. Means testing is part of the mix, but for social cohesion a nation needs a contributory element, along side universality. That is why I was so upset when Child Benefit was no longer a universal benefit – I prefer to say family allowance – as language can make a difference to how we view welfare. The NHS is a universal system. The universal element is as important as the contributory element. Universality stops the divides within society but it must be there in connection with a contributory system.
When mentioning strengthening the Contributory element in welfare – it may signal alarm bells – ‘But what about people that are unable to contribute due to various factors,will this mean that they will be excluded’ – N0. There has and will always be a safety net for people who have been unable to contribute directly into the welfare system due to circumstances. There are so many people in the UK that contribute to our society. In so many ways. That’s why I find the ‘hardworking’ slogan used by some politicians hard to digest. What do you define as ‘Hardworking’. I’d rather use ‘Contribute to society’. Because there are many ways to contribute to a society to improve the society.
By defining the principles, fairness can be established and divisions decreased.
So how do we make a modern, productive welfare system for the 21st Century that is guided by its founding principles.
Firstly we need to help young people. Youth unemployment has been far too high for far too long. This demoralises young generations.
Education should include practical education. There should be good Financial education, Political Education ( which includes what the structures are in society – what central & local govt do ) and also excellent Career advice ( which includes how to do CV’s, interview advice ). Its important to give young people the confidence and skills for life.
Also 16 year olds should be allowed to vote. This is the chance for young people to be heard, to have a voice in society.
There also has to be an acknowledgement of people who contribute to society. The silent champions of our society. The Carers. Family Carers,young carers. I’d also like to see the caring profession being valued in our society. Carers who are employed should be paid a good living wage.
The Contributors to society are diverse and should be acknowledged. And this is the first step to re establishing a strong welfare system that works for society.
That’s the key – a system that works for society. That creates unity, not division.
The challenge is to make a system that has strong principles and that is fair for a 21st Century.