Social insurance fully developed may provide income security; it is an attack upon Want. But Want is one only of five giants on the road of reconstruction and in some ways the easiest to attack. The others are Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness.
The State in organising [social] security should not stifle incentive, opportunity, responsibility ; in establishing a national minimum, it should leave room and encouragement for voluntary action by each individual to provide more than that minimum for himself and his family.
Unfortunately, as we know all too well, the current system of benefits does stifle voluntary action, not only through high taxes but also through massive marginal deduction rates—rates that reach 95.5% [PDF].
I think that Beveridge would be shocked at our current benefits system, for it encourages Idleness. He would also, I submit, be shocked at the fact that our education system breeds Ignorance.
The main trouble is that Beveridge proposed a system of social security, not benefits. In his vision, the contract was two-way: you paid in, and the government ensured that you were supported when in need. For far too many people in this country, one crucial element of this equation is missing—the paying in bit.
Since one can earn a living wage—when you include Housing Benefit (at a cost of some £17 billion per annum)—by not working and thus not paying in, where is the incentive to work? Especially since the withdrawal of benefits means that someone on the National Minimum Wage can keep as little as 4.5p in the pound.
It's a crazy situation, for the longer it happens, the greater the outcry when—as is inevitable—these benefits must be withdrawn. And they must be withdrawn because there is no money left to pay this vast Welfare Bill: we, as a country, simply cannot afford to pay more than 5 million people to be economically inactive.
But it is wrong on a personal level too—people should be able to aspire to something other than a greater slice of the benefits pie. I like getting a pay-cheque knowing that I have worked for it—I cannot believe that I am so unique that no one else feels that. I enjoy honing my skills, and learning new things; again, I don't believe that I can be so far different from anyone else in this.
Through the piss-poor education system and the over-generous benefits system, the state effectively—oh, so effectively—discourages people from working, from fulfilling their potential. In short, it traps them in a near endless cycle of Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness.
Beveridge would have been horrified.
UPDATE: a nice commenter called Mike has left the following...
I suppose you have a point, but not everyone has been to Eton. A lot of dole people really have no future, unless you consider working at McDonald's a future - which you probably do, although there's no danger of it being your future, just theirs.
Where do I start? Brave as I am, I shall give it a shot...
- Eton gave me a decent education. A decent education opens doors, which is why I have constantly and consistently argued that nothing is more important to a person's future than a good education. And unlike many of the poor bastards being turned out of our schools these days, I know what a decent education looks like.
- Eton also provided a huge number of services outside the classroom. I spent most of my last three years in the Art Schools, welding metal. Many others spent their time in the Craft, Design & Technology Schools, building cars, moulding plastics, etc. The really valuable stuff was all of the opportunities outside the classroom.
- Eton taught us that almost anything was possible given enough tools, experience and knowledge. This is one of the most important things that you can teach any young person. So, contrast the Eton can-do ethos with the Left's philosophy: here, for your delectation, is £120,000 per year Guardian columnist and Champion Of The Poor, Polly Toynbee...
However, [Polly] attacked Murray’s argument and said that to tell children that they could achieve greatness was to fill their heads with fairy tale nonsense. Apparently we live in a society where only the very rich achieve greatness.
As a (relatively young) Conservative it is one of my core beliefs that individuals should aspire to better themselves, and society, through ambition and hard work. A world run by Toynbee would be a world where children are encouraged not to try, as “they’ll never make it in to the history book. That’s just where rich people end up.” Frightening stuff.
Indeed. It is this attitude—combined with the fact that politicians would rather massage the figures than actually ensure that people have the wherewithall, the ambition and the knowledge to aspire to something better—that has brought so many people to this piss-poor state of being.
- Having said all that, ambition is not solely a product of a good education. Some years ago, I worked as an auxiliary nurse in a medical centre; all of the other aux nurses had left school with minimal qualifications and weren't particularly well-educated.
Nevertheless, one of them saved her money, and sent herself to college because she knew that she could do something more. A year later, she was back at the medical centre, but this time as an Occupational Therapist: she had more money, more responsibility and better job satisfaction. And she didn't intend to stop there.
Give people some hope, and they will find a way—and the desire.
Telling me that I don't understand because I know what aspiration looks like is not only blinkered and bigoted—it is defeatist and patronising.