Letter: Labour moves against the welfare state

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The Independent Online
Sir: I fear that Nicholas Timmins ("Hail the welfare revolution", 9 May) is only too correct when he predicts that the Labour Party will soon announce "that it wants to replace the remainder of Serps, the State Earnings Related Pension Scheme, with a new funded system - in partnership with the private sector".

This tallies with the views expressed a few days ago by Chris Smith MP, Labour's spokesperson on this issue, that people would need to take more individual responsibility for their old-age care.

In spite of Mr Smith's protestations that this is not against the spirit of the Beveridge welfare state, Labour is moving in the direction of the notion - already well-established in Conservative circles - that the government- funded part of the welfare state should serve merely as a safety net. That was never my understanding of the "care from the cradle to the grave" which I always took to be one of the central planks of the Beveridge reforms.

It is also unclear to me exactly how Britain's millions of low-paid workers will be able to participate in any initiative emanating from the private sector.

Even if the Labour Party pitched the minimum wage to which it is (still) committed at pounds 4 per hour we will have the prospect of people earning less than pounds 8,000 being required to top up their pension contributions.

Walter Cairns