Tag: Geoffrey Howe

The welfare state: from hung, drawn and quartered to Tory privatisation

Thatcher scary

The mess that Thatcher left in her wake is verified by several longitudinal studies. Dr. Alex Scott-Samuel and colleagues from the Universities of Durham, West of Scotland, Glasgow and Edinburgh, sourced data from over 70 existing research papers, which concludes that as a result of unnecessary unemployment, welfare cuts and damaging housing policies, the former prime minister’s legacy:

includes the unnecessary and unjust premature death of many British citizens, together with a substantial and continuing burden of suffering and loss of well-being. 

The article also cites evidence including the substantial increase in income inequality under Thatcher – the richest 0.01% of society had 28 times the mean national average income in 1978 but 70 times the average in 1990, and there was a rise in UK poverty rates from 6.7% in 1975 to 12% in 1985.

The research article concludes that:

Thatcher’s governments wilfully engineered an economic catastrophe across large parts of Britain by dismantling traditional industries such as coal and steel in order to undermine the power of working class organisations, such as unions.This ultimately fed through into growing regional disparities in health standards and life expectancy, as well as greatly increased inequalities between the richest and poorest in society.

New Right Conservatives have a curiously evidence-resistant conviction that the “big state” has somehow stymied our society: that the “socialist relic” – our NHS and our Social Security system, which supports the casualties of Tory free markets, have somehow created those casualties. But we know from history and recent events that competitive individualism and market choice-driven Tory policies create a few haves and many have-nots.

Tory rhetoric is designed to have us believe there would be no poor if the welfare state didn’t somehow “create” them. If the Conservatives must insist on peddling the myth of meritocracy, then surely they must also concede that whilst such a system has some beneficiaries, it also creates situations of insolvency and poverty for others.

In a wealthy so-called first world democracy, it is profoundly uncivilised and anti-democratic to simply dismiss people experiencing poverty and hardship effectively as collateral damage, and terribly cruel and irresponsible to blame those people for the situations of difficulty and deprivation created by policies and the socio-economic framework itself.

This wide recognition that the raw “market forces” of stark laissez faire cause casualties is why the welfare state came into being, after all – because when we allow such competitive economic dogmas to manifest – as the stormy present – there are winners and losers. That is the nature of competitive individualism, and along with inequality, it’s an implicit, undeniable and fundamental part of the meritocracy script.

And that’s before we consider the fact that whenever there is a Conservative-led government, there is no such thing as a “free market”: in reality, all markets are rigged to favour elites.

Cameron is continuing to build on Thatcher’s legacy. We know from the Central Policy Review Staff (CPRS) report, which was encouraged and commissioned by Margaret Thatcher and Geoffrey Howe in 1982, that there was a radical, politically toxic plan to dismantle the welfare state, to introduce education vouchers, ending the state funding of higher education; to freeze welfare benefits and to introduce an insurance-based health service, ending free health care provision of the NHS. One of the architects of the report was Lord Wasserman, he  was one of Cameron’s advisors until 2012.

A confidential cabinet memorandum by the Central Policy Review Staff in September 1982, said: “This would of course mean the end of the National Health Service.” The report was declassified and released in 2012 by the National Archives under the 30-year rule.

But the fear of the scale of opposition to the plan meant the grand dismantling of the welfare state didn’t happen. Instead the Conservatives have planned and worked to take it apart a piece at a time.

In 1982 unemployment rose above three million. Yet the Tories were happy with further increases to try and drive down wages. John Sparrow of the Cabinet Office’s Central Policy Review Staff think-tank, wrote in a June memo to Thatcher that the youth training scheme, introduced in 1983, would be “likely to displace some older workers”.

He continued:

Displacement is not necessarily a bad thing, since it puts downward pressure on wage rates.” Sparrow noted that government plans to end out-of-work benefits for 16 year olds would remove them from the unemployment figures.

Fast-forward to the present: David Cameron is prepared to consider making workers pay into flexible saving accounts to self-fund periods of illness and unemployment benefits, Downing Street has confirmed.

The idea was first floated by Iain Duncan Smith who said he was “very keen” to have a debate about encouraging people to use personal accounts to save for unemployment or illness, even though it is not “official” government policy.

Duncan Smith told the Sunday Telegraph:

We need to support the kind of products that allow people through their lives to dip in and out when they need the money for sickness or care or unemployment.

We need to encourage people to save from day one but they need to know that they can get some of the money out when their circumstances change. This is not government policy but I am very keen to look at it, as a long-term way forward for the 21st century.

Duncan Smith seems to be suggesting that benefits are replaced with a kind of unemployment insurance scheme as seen in the US or products known as “fortune accounts”, which are used in Singapore.

Asked about the idea of workers saving up for their sickness and unemployment benefits, Cameron’s official spokeswoman confirmed he was prepared to consider such a model. She said:

I think the PM shares the work and pensions secretary’s view that we should be doing more to encourage people to take personal responsibility for how they manage their affairs.

The proposal of fortune accounts for the UK was examined in depth in a paper by the Right-wing libertarian Adam Smith Institute thinktank in 1995, which considered how people could go to a single private provider for an account that gave them long-term care insurance, disability cover, health insurance, savings fund management and unemployment insurance.

The paper suggested:

Many other things that we often regard as ‘welfare’ today are also insurable and will be part of the fortune account package. Cover against incapacity to work, long-term care services, and disability, will all be in the package.

A report from Civitas argued (preemptively) that National Insurance is “no longer fit for purpose” and that everyone in work should be forced to save into a private pension to help shoulder the burden of the rising costs of old age.

Civitas professorial research fellow Peter Saunders argued in the report, titled Beyond Beveridge, that the principle that those who are able to should pay into the system has been eroded and “taxpayer-funded hand-outs” have increasingly replaced contributions-based benefits.

He goes on to say that whilst the main purpose of the proposed personal welfare accounts would be for retirement saving, they could also provide cover for when times are tough during periods of short-term unemployment, sickness and parental leave.

It reads like Daily Mail dogma to me.

The report reviews Britain’s National Insurance system and
proposes that it be replaced by compulsory “personal welfare

accounts.”

The introduction of personal insurance schemes would mark the end of welfare provision as we know it. Furthermore, those least likely to be able to afford the premiums are those most at risk of losing their jobs.

The Tories fully intended that the welfare “reforms” were the beginning of the end of our welfare state. The welfare cuts were ushered in strictly because of the despotic use of “financial privilege” by Cameron to bypass the widespread and vehement opposition to the Bill.

At the time, such was my dismay at the proposed welfare “reform” Bill that I emailed the entire House of Lords, imploringly. After using a reasoned approach, my second email simply said: the welfare reforms must not happen. Many of the peers and members replied, and many responded with “agreed.” But Cameron made the “reforms” happen anyway and apparently felt no obligation to observe the niceties of democratic process.

The Tories clearly have no intention of ensuring a safety net for citizens and have plotted to dismantle our welfare state since the Thatcher era. This is a long-planned outcome for the Tories. Social security and public services are in serious jeopardy.

Cameron’s rhetoric is full of references to “rolling back the state”, the “re-awakening of community spirit”, and a restoration of the kind of “intermediate civic institutions” that preceded the welfare state. The whole idea of Cameron’s “big society” is that private charities fill the holes created by public spending cuts.

Food banks have increasingly replaced welfare, for example, yet the point of post-1945 European welfare states was to free those in need from dependence on the insecurity of private generosity, which tends to miss out the socially marginalised, and to be least available when times are hardest.

Welfare, or social security, if you prefer, has provided a sense of security and dignity that we never previously enjoyed, it established a norm of decency, mutuality of our social obligations and created a parity of esteem and worth which was, until fairly recently, universal, regardless of wealth and status.

The “big bad state” is comprised of civilised and civilising institutions. It is such stable and enduring institutions and subsequently secure individuals that are raised above a struggle for basic survival which provide a frame for coherent communities. The Conservatives, with their anti-humanist, anti-enlightenment demagoguery of rigid class division, and policies that engineer steep social stratification, tend to create ghettoes, not communities.

The paternalism of traditional Tories and the authoritarianism of the current New Right are profoundly undemocratic: neither design can reflect the needs of the public since both frameworks are imposed on a population, reflecting only the needs of the ruling class, to preserve social order.

Conservative small-state ideology has led to depopulated social policies, which have dehumanised people, and indicate that the Tory policy-makers see the public as objects of their policies, and not as human subjects.

The moralising scrutiny and control of the poor is a quintessential element of tory narrative. Tory ideology never changes. They refuse the lessons of history, and reject the need for coherence and rationality. Tories really are stuck in the Feudal era. They have never liked the idea of something for everyone, yet everyone has paid for welfare provision:

“The [financial] crisis is an opportunity to sweep away the rotten postwar settlement of British politics. Labour is moribund. But David Cameron has a chance to develop a “red Tory” communitarianism, socially conservative but sceptical of neoliberal economics.” Phillip Blond, The Rise of the Red Tories, 2009.

Cameron was never sceptical of neoliberalism: like Thatcher, he has extended it without restraint. Neoliberalism entails a charismatic ideology – what sociologist Pierre Bourdieu calls a doxa: an unquestionable orthodoxy that operates as if it were the objective truth – that facilitates an uncompromising attack on public welfare; inevitable, growing inequality, and the individualization of all social actions, all in the name of private “enterprise”, the accummulation of private wealth for a minority and “global competitiveness.”

Unsurprisingly, then, unemployment, inequality, and poverty are increasingly blamed on the individuals experiencing these conditions rather than on the structural constraints that create the conditions.

We are being turned away from the role of the community and instead our attention is being purposefully diverted and re-focused solely on the “responsibilities” of individuals (and those responsiblities are inversely proportional to how much wealth a person has), common social values such as cooperation, mutual support, reciprocal altruism are being eroded, and the interdependent and intersubjective nature of social life is flatly denied: mutual relationships and common bonds are being dissolved and replaced by a social Darwinist narrative – founded on the mantra of competitive individualism.

The policies, practices and irrational beliefs of the state are distorting the perceptions of social groups and individuals, the colonisation of public language and space with neoliberal narratives – facilitated by a largely complicit media – delivers a distinctive anti-rationalist epistemology that restructures public ontological understandings.

Those understandings have become profoundly anti-collectivist and increasingly, antisocial, ultimately undermining social cohesion, stability and social security.

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Related

The welfare debate and the end of reason

The welfare state – can we afford it?

Can we afford the welfare state?

Britain can still afford the welfare state

We can’t afford to lose the welfare state.

Images courtesy of Robert Livingstone

Manufacturing consensus: the end of history and the partisan man

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The Tories are not “paying down the debt” as claimed. They are “raising more money for the rich”

Austerity is not being imposed by the Coalition to achieve an economic result. Austerity IS the economic result. In the wake of the global banking crisis, the Tories, aided and abetted by the Liberal Democrats, have opportunistically delivered ideologically driven cuts and mass privatisation.

We also know that the government’s own Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) laid bare an important truth – that any semblance of economic recovery is despite the Coalition and not because of them. Yet the Tories have continued to claim that austerity is “working”. The Chairman of the OBR, Robert Chote said:

“Looking over the forecast as a whole – net trade makes very little contribution and government spending cuts will act as a drag.

The OBR state that any slight economic recovery is in no way because of Osborne and Tory policy, but simply due to the wider global recovery from the global crash. 

The government has drastically cut its spending on everything – including the NHS, and welfare in spite of their ludicrous claims to the contrary, this means that the government has consistently damaged the prospect of any economic recovery. This also demonstrates clearly that Coalition policy is driven by their own ideology rather than a genuine problem-solving approach to the economy. Yes, I know I’ve said all of this before – and so have others – but it’s so important to keep on exposing this Tory lie.

However, I believe that Conservatives really do have a conviction that the “big state” has stymied our society: that the “socialist relic” – our NHS and our Social Security system, which supports the casualties of Tory free markets, have somehow created those casualties. But we know that the competitive, market choice-driven Tory policies create a few haves and many have-nots.

Coalition rhetoric is designed to have us believe there would be no poor if the welfare state didn’t “create” them. If the Coalition must insist on peddling the myth of meritocracy, then surely they must also concede that whilst such a system has some beneficiaries, it also creates situations of insolvency and poverty for others.

Inequality is a fundamental element of the same meritocracy script that neoliberals so often pull from the top pockets of their bespoke suits. It’s the big contradiction in the smug, vehement meritocrat’s competitive individualism narrative. This is why the welfare state came into being, after all – because when we allow such fundamentally competitive economic dogmas to manifest, there are always winners and losers. It’s hardly “fair”, therefore, to leave the casualties of competition facing destitution and starvation, with a hefty, cruel and patronising barrage of calculated psychopolicical scapegoating, politically-directed cultural blamestorming, and a coercive, pathologising and punitive behaviourist approach to the casualities of inbuilt, systemic, inevitable and pre-designated sentences of economic exclusion and poverty.

And that’s before we consider the fact that whenever there is a Conservative-led government, there is no such thing as a “free market”: in reality, all markets are rigged to serve elites.

Political theorist Francis Fukuyama, announced in 1992 that the great ideological battles between “east and west” were over, and that western liberal democracy had triumphed. He was dubbed the “court philosopher of global capitalism” by John Gray. In his book The End of History and the Last Man, Fukuyama wrote:

“At the end of history, it is not necessary that all societies become successful liberal societies, merely that they end their ideological pretensions of representing different and higher forms of human society…..What we are witnessing, is not just the end of the cold war, or a passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

I always saw Fukuyama as an ardent champion of ultra-neoliberalism, and he disguised his neo-conservatism behind apparently benign virtue words and phrases (as part of a propaganda technique called Glittering Generalities), such as “Man’s universal right to freedom.” 

He meant the same sort of self-interested “freedom” as Ayn Rand – “a free mind and a free market are corollaries.” He meant the same kind of implicit Social Darwinist notions long held by Conservatives like Herbert Spencer – where the market rather than evolution decides who is “free,” who survives, and as we know, that’s rigged. Tory ideology does not ever have a utilitarian outcome.

Fukuyama’s ideas have been absorbed culturally, and serve to naturalise the dominance of the Right, and stifle the rationale for critical debate.

Like Marx, Fukuyama drew to some extent on the ideas of Hegel – who defined history as a linear procession of “epochs” – technological progress and the progressive, cumulative resolution of conflict allowed humans to advance from tribal to feudal to industrial society. Fukuyama was determined to send us on an epic detour – Marx informed us the journey ended with communism, but Fukuyama has diverted us to another destination.

I agree with Fukuyama on one point: since the French Revolution, democracy has repeatedly proven to be the fundamentally better system (ethically, politically, economically) than any of the alternatives. However we haven’t witnessed the “triumph of liberal democracy” at all: in the UK, we are seeing the imposition of rampant, unchecked neoliberalism coupled with an unyielding, authoritarian-styled social conservatism, with the safety net of democracy removed.

Fukuyama’s declaration manufactures an impression of global consensus politics but I believe this is far from the truth. I don’t believe this can possibly be the endpoint of humanity’s sociocultural evolution. It doesn’t reflect any global and historical learning or progress.

Jacques Derrida (Specters of Marx (1993) ) said that Fukuyama – and the quick celebrity of his book – is but one symptom of the wider anxiety to ensure the “death of Marx”. He goes on to say:

“For it must be cried out, at a time when some have the audacity to neo-evangelize in the name of the ideal of a liberal democracy that has finally realized itself as the ideal of human history: never have violence, inequality, exclusion, famine, and thus economic oppression affected as many human beings in the history of the earth and of humanity. Instead of singing the advent of the ideal of liberal democracy and of the capitalist market in the euphoria of the end of history, instead of celebrating the ‘end of ideologies’ and the end of the great emancipatory discourses, let us never neglect this obvious macroscopic fact, made up of innumerable singular sites of suffering: no degree of progress allows one to ignore that never before, in absolute figures, have so many men, women and children been subjugated, starved or exterminated on the earth.”

Fukuyama’s work is a celebration of neoliberal hegemony and a neo-conservative endorsement of it. It’s an important work to discuss simply because it has been so widely and tacitly accepted, and because of that, some of the implicit, taken-for-granted assumptions and ramifications need to be made explicit.

I don’t think conviction politics is dead, as claimed by Cameron – he has said that he doesn’t “do isms”, that politics is doing “what works”, “working together in the National interest” and “getting the job done”. But we know he isn’t working to promote a national interest, only an elite one. Cameron may have superficially smoothed recognisable “isms” from Tory ideology, but Nick Clegg has most certainly taken the politics out of politics, and added to the the impression that old polarities no longer pertain –  that all the main parties have shifted to the right.

However, the authoritarian Right’s domination of the ideological landscape, the Liberal Democrat’s complete lack of any partisan engagement and their readiness to compromise with their once political opponents has certainly contributed to popular disaffection with mainstream politics, and a sense of betrayal.

It’s ironic that many of those on the left who mistake divisiveness for a lack of political choice have forgotten the degree of consensus politics between 1945 and 1979, when Labour achieved so much, and manifested what many deem “real” socialist ideals. The Conservatives at that time largely agreed the need for certain basic government policies and changes in government responsibility in the decades after World War II, from which we emerged economically exhausted.

The welfare state, the national health service (NHS), and widespread nationalisation of industry happened at a time of high national debt, because the recommendations of the Beveridge Report were adopted by the Liberal Party, to some extent by the Conservative Party, and then most expansively, by the Labour Party.

It was Thatcher’s government that challenged the then accepted orthodoxy of Keynesian economics – that a fall in national income and rising unemployment should be countered by increased government expenditure to stimulate the economy. There was increasing divergence of economic opinion between the Labour and the Tories, ending the consensus of the previous decades. Thatcher’s policies rested on a strongly free-market monetarist platform aiming to curb inflation by controlling the UK’s money supply, cut government spending, and privatise industry, consensus became an unpopular word.

The Thatcher era also saw a massive under-investment in infrastructure. Inequality increased. The winners included much of the corporate sector and the City, and the losers were much of the public sector and manufacturing. Conservatism: same as it ever was.

Those on the “Narxist” left who claim that there is a consensus – and that the Blair government continued with the tenets of Thatcherism need to take a close look at Blair’s policies, and the important achievements that were underpinned with clear ethical socialist principles: strong themes of equality, human rights, anti-discrimination legislation, and strong programmess of support for the poorest, sick and disabled and most vulnerable citizens. Not bad going for a party that Narxists lazily dubbed “Tory-lite”.

Narxism is founded on simplistic, sloganised references to Marxist orthodoxy, and the claim to “real socialism.” Many Narxists claim that all other political parties are “the same.”

The Narxist “all the samers” tend to think at an unsophisticated populist level, drawing heavily on a frustratingly narrow lexicon of blinding glittering generalities, soundbites and slogans. But we need to analyse and pay heed to what matters and what defines a political party: policies and their impact. Despite New Labour’s shortcomings, if we are truly to learn anything of value and evolve into an effective opposition, presenting alternatives to the Conservative neoliberal doxa, we must also examine the positives: a balanced and even-handed analysis. We won’t progress by fostering further divisions along the longstanding “real socialist”, “left” and “moderate” faultlines.

It’s very clear that it is the Coalition who are continuing Thatcher’s legacy. We know this from the Central Policy Review Staff (CPRS) report, which was encouraged and commissioned by Thatcher and Howe in 1982, which shows a radical, politically toxic plan to dismantle the welfare state, to introduce education vouchers, ending the state funding of higher education, to freeze welfare benefits and to introduce an insurance-based health service, ending free health care provision of the NHS. One of the architects of the report was Lord Wasserman, he is now one of Cameron’s advisors.

New Labour had 13 years to fulfil Thatcher’s legacy – and did not. However, in four short years, the Coalition have gone a considerable way in making manifest Thatcher’s ideological directives. To do this has required the quiet editing and removal of Labour’s policies – such as key elements of Labour’s Equality Act .

The imposed austerity is facilitated by the fact that we have moved away from the equality and rights based society that we were under the last Labour government to become a society based on authoritarianism  and the market-based distribution of power. The only recognisable continuity is between Thatcher’s plans and Cameron’s policies. The intervening Labour government gave us some respite from the cold and brutal minarchism of the Tories.

There was never a greater need for partisan politics. The media, which is most certainly being managed by the authoritarian Tory-led government creates an illusory political “centre ground” – and a manufactured consensus – that does not exist.

Careful scrutiny and comparison of policies indicates this clearly. Yet much propaganda in the media and Tory rhetoric rests on techniques of neutralisation – a deliberately employed psychological method used to direct people to turn off “inner protests”, blur distinctions: it’s a mechanism often used to silence the inclination we have to follow established moral obligations, social norms, as well as recognise our own values and principles. And it’s also used to disguise intentions. Therefore, it’s important to examine political deeds rather than words: policy, and not narratives.

My own partisanship is to fundamental values, moral obligations  and principles, and is certainly none-negotiable. Those include equality, human rights, recognising diversity, justice and fairness, mutual aid, support and cooperation, collective responsibility, amongst others, and the bedrock of all of these values and principles is, of course, democracy.

Democracy exists partly to ensure that the powerful are accountable to the vulnerable. The far-right Coalition have blocked that crucial exchange, and they despise the welfare state, which provides the vulnerable protection from the powerful. They despise human rights.

Conservatives claim that such protection causes vulnerability, yet history has consistently taught us otherwise. The Coalition’s policies are expressions of contempt for the lessons of over a century of social history and administration.

The clocks stopped when the Tories took Office, now we are losing a decade a day.

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Thank you to Robert Livingstone for the pictures. More here