The welfare state was never only an altruistic project, but rather an exercise in enlightened self-interest. The principle of the general welfare state contained the realisation that if benefits were means tested, the welfare system would be fragile. To help the poor and create robust systems, it was important to include everyone and not just the poor.

If the rich and the middle classes were excluded, it was easy to assign a moralist tone toward the people who still benefited from it. Thus, where means testing was introduced, the quality of the system deteriorated. As with DWP in the UK, f.eg., and the US welfare model, once it benefited only the poor, it came under attack as unfair.

Think of the words that often populate right-wing newspapers. Scroungers. Skivers. Aspiration. Benefit street. Those are all terms with a moral dimension. Positive or negative. They’re not used to include the people who are excluded. They’re used to remove the benefits from those who need it.

The Scots have it right when they give university education, prescriptions, and such to everyone. It is probably one reason why those systems appear far more robust in Scotland than they are in the rest of the United Kingdom. The influencers in society benefit from the systems, and that’s why they don’t attack them.

The social democrats of old recognised this. These days, social democracy has been lured into the trap of thinking that the state is inherently bad. The fault lines have shifted so that you have people like Jeremy Corbyn explicitly arguing for welfare to poor people. That is, of course, the goal – to equalise human worth. The polling suggest that he’s not very successful.

By employing an explicit appeal for altruism, rather than enlightened self-interest, Jeremy Corbyn solidifies the moralistic resentment among people who today are excluded. “Why should they get free money when I have to work endless hours to pay the bills?” If the argument was instead that “Education and health is a universal good, and everyone should get it.” See the attitude toward the universalist NHS compared to education.

The best way to help the poor is, therefore, to include everyone. Tuition fees, job seeker allowance, sick-pay, maternity leave, and education. Don’t means test it when people need them.Include everyone in the system.

When even the staff of the right-wing press benefit from those systems, they will be more resistant to snatching the bread out of the mouths of hungry children. Their readers will certainly be more resistant to their arguments because it will be their kids, and their granny, and their friends who will be hit if the right-wing papers succeed.

The text above contain some random thoughts I had when confronted with the question of general welfare principles. I have not sourced all this, and rely on memories of personal observations through the years.
Advertisements