The blueprint for a modern welfare state

From a speech by the Education Secretary David Blunkett at a seminar on the welfare state, held by the Policy Studies Institute

Share

The welfare state was founded on the principle of "universality". The theme is resilient, but it has not proved untouchable, and it has meant different things to different people. It is now time to re-examine how the principle of "universality" should be interpreted to meet the needs of people in the coming century.

The welfare state was founded on the principle of "universality". The theme is resilient, but it has not proved untouchable, and it has meant different things to different people. It is now time to re-examine how the principle of "universality" should be interpreted to meet the needs of people in the coming century.

Collective provision did not start from a fully formed social-security system. The major religions all included support for those in need as a key part of religious practice. The Elizabethan Poor Laws were in large part a response to the collapse of the traditional local welfare system that depended on charitable foundations swept away by the Reformation and the sale of Church assets.

The Industrial Revolution inspired early examples of collective provision such as goose and burial clubs, the embryo craft trade unions, mutuals and friendly societies. All this was patchy and involved only a minimal role for the state. The collective spirit generated during the First and Second World Wars forged a more modern welfare state, supporting people from cradle to grave.

Of course, the modern welfare state has always had its opponents. Early in July 1948, the Daily Mail told its readers: "On Monday morning you will wake up in a new Britain, in a State which 'takes over' its citizens six months before they are born, providing care and free services for their birth, for their early years, their schooling, sickness, workless days, widowhood and retirement. All this, with free doctoring, dentistry and medicine for 4 shillings, 11 pence out of your weekly pay packet. You begin paying next Friday."

Thank goodness the Daily Mail and this government agree on the need for a welfare state that enables people to earn their own living, to take responsibility for themselves and their family, to determine their own future, but also to be able to call on essential services that see them through times of need.

For decades, governments have treated the welfare state not only as a safety net, but as one from which people are not expected to climb out. No wonder, then, that its customers have treated it in the same way. The modern welfare state should be more than a safety net. It should be a platform for independence, prosperity and social inclusion, based on different sectors of society working together.

There are 2.4 million people who claim incapacity benefits. Every week, 3,000 people move from work on to benefits designed to help when illness or disability leaves them no option - most of whom historically have stayed on benefits and not gone back to work. And on average, claimants will stay on sickness and disability benefits for five years. The cost to the Exchequer is £6.8bn a year.

Our challenge is to ensure security for those who cannot work and real opportunities for those who can. We need to give practical help to enable as many of these people as possible to have the chance to work again.

It is a "something for something" approach, in which people have an obligation to help themselves where they can. In a world of computers and increasing variety in the nature of work, more opportunities are available for people whose work capacity may be limited by disability or ill-health.

With the help of employers, we can ensure that the transition between full-time and part-time work, and between paid work and volunteering, can be made easier, more flexible, less bureaucratic and of greater value to both the giver and the recipient.

Possibly through private sponsorship, we could ensure that people moving from work into retirement or semi-retirement receive information and guidance on what voluntary opportunities exist - for example, reading schemes in schools, family support networks and helping local charities. An effective, flexible and responsive welfare state should lie at the heart of any reasonable vision of a good society.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Gold Ferrari sits outside Chanel on Sloane Street  

Sunday Times Rich List: We are no longer in thrall to very rich people

Terence Blacker
David Cameron was openly emotional at the prospect of Scotland leaving the union before the referendum  

General election 2015: Remember when David Cameron almost cried over Scotland because he loved it so much?

Matthew Norman
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence