Tuesday

The biggest dates in Britain’s history of state welfare

The biggest moments in British welfare state history:

1.)  1536-47 Expropriation of the monasteries and priories by Henry VIII which removed much of the church welfare that existed at the time.

2.) 1601 Crystallisation of the Poor Laws that had been created and much changed about during reign of Elizabeth I

3.) 1834 Report of the commission inquiring into the operation of the Poor Laws. These laws had become dysfunctional resulting in many people living on benefits and a rise in lone parents relying on hand-outs from the parishes.  This report led to a drastic tightening of conditionality.

4.) 1911 Unemployment insurance introduced by Winston Churchill along with other welfare changes.

5.) 1945/50 Attlee government reformed benefits, influenced by Beveridge report – partly to rectify abuses that had become apparent in the 1930s. Levels of benefit low, partly because of inflation and debt following war.

6.) 2012-14 Iain Duncan Smith reforms – largely to rectify dysfunctionality of a welfare system that had mostly developed during 1960s and 1970s  whereby many people were hardly better off working and some people were actually worse off.

These dates obviously refer only to the welfare benefits part of the welfare state and omit such things as housing, healthcare and education. For a longer list including these other aspects, see page VIII of the paperback edition of The Welfare State We’re In.

Posted by James Bartholomew Indexed in Blog, Welfare before the welfare state, Welfare benefits
Permalink Leave a comment
Monday

The Coalition’s welfare reforms – how important are they?

Some of the Coalition’s major reforms of the welfare state begin today.

Two that have gained a lot of attention are the ‘bedroom tax’ which is a reduction in housing benefit for those council tenants who have a spare room and another is the reduction in council tax benefits, although in this case, local councils have some discretion.

It is only later that the real centrepiece of the reforms, the Universal Credit, will come into force.

How important are these reforms?

Together they probably represent the biggest reforms for a generation. I would give them one or one and a half cheers.

Why are they necessary?

They are necessary because the welfare state that was created by the Labour government in 1945-50 – which was not bad at all –  became corrupted, particularly, I think, during the 1960s and 1970s. Certain benefits were raised. New ones were introduced. There is no denying that sometimes the changes were politically motivated – intended to make the party concerned look kindly or else to show that it was doing something about a problem.

That is how, gradually and insidiously, the incentive to work for low-paid people was reduced and, in some cases, eliminated. There were thousands of people who were working in the late 1980s who were gaining only 10% more than what they would have got on benefits – this was because of the combined effect of lost benefits and taxation on their income.  It was almost heroic that they continued working. But of course many thousands eventually  came to the conclusion that it was absurd to work. It was very tempting to stay at home or to take the benefits and do a little work on the side. The system more or less encouraged it.

Since then, there have been some reforms to try to address the problem. One effort has been to pay benefits to people who are in work. But this has various drawbacks. One is the cost.  We are paying people who don’t work and also people who do. And to make sure everyone has an incentive, the benefits to those in work have to continue up the pay-scale. Meanwhile, as happened about two centuries ago, employers can simply pay employees less than they otherwise would, knowing that the difference will be largely made up by the benefits (know as tax credits).

It has become incredibly complex and difficult sometimes even for specialists to work out whether someone is better off working or not.

The Universal Credit is an attempt to bring different benefits together into one and make it clearly worth working at all levels of income. It is quite expensive. The incentives to work are still not as big as they ideally should be. But it is progress.

What about the ‘bedroom tax’? This is a reduction in housing benefit for those council tenants who have a spare room. There are lots of aspects to this. I will just mention one which has not received much attention. Housing benefit has been the elephant in the room in welfare. It can strongly  disincentivise work. If you take work, you lose your benefit. In which case, it may not be worth taking work. But if the benefit is smaller, then the reduction in your incentive to work is less. So for some people, at least, the ‘bedroom tax’ should increase the incentive to work.

Another aspect of the ‘bedroom tax’ is that there are people who are currently living in overcrowded conditions who could really do with the social housing currently not fully used by the existing tenants. These people deserve our concern and sympathy as much as those whose lives may be disrupted by moving or who may receive less benefit.

What about the reduction in council tax benefit that will be applied by some but not all councils? Obviously it will hit those who are less well off. I am not expert in this benefit. So I will only say that it might be tough for some people but if it reduces the benefit which you would lose if you took a job, then the disincentive to take a job will be reduced.

In both cases, of course, the saving in money means that taxes can be lower than they otherwise would be and that, too, increases the incentive to work.

Incentives are vitally important. They went completely wrong in the lead up to the 1980s. It is a sad and difficult business to improve the situation. But it is vitally important that it is done in order to get more people out of benefits and into work. We have got used to having millions of people unemployed, year after year. It used not to be like that. It should not be like that.

Reducing the disincentives to save is another worthwhile job. But the area which needs more attention is the effort to push people into work more actively and earlier. It is being done all over the world and the effort has started here. But it needs to go further.

 

Posted by James Bartholomew Indexed in Reform, Welfare benefits
Permalink 3 Comments
Sunday

Return to Aix. First impressions.

I came down to Aix-en-Provence by train yesterday. On the way we passed through Lyon. Two things bleakly stood out: many walls smothered in graffiti and the large blocks of social housing.

I arrived in the evening. By the middle of this morning, I had been approached by three beggars.

I had supper with a old friend.  I asked about visiting social housing blocks in Marseille. She said there had been murders recently in Marseille. It might not be safe to go to those areas. But then, she reflected, those areas might actually be safer because they would have police there. She said that more than 300 extra police had been brought into Marseille to help deal with the violence.

There is a huge contrast: on the one hand, the beggars, the graffiti, the social blocks, the violence. On the other hand, the ultra-chic shops of central Aix and tens of restaurants here fully booked (admittedly on a Saturday night).

French politicians talk of ‘social solidarity’. They seem to have achieved the opposite.

Posted by James Bartholomew Indexed in Behaviour & Crime, General, Housing, Work on the new book
Permalink 1 Comment
Monday

Women more likely to be groped in Japan than England

A Japanese woman has told me that, in Japan, women in a full underground train are groped by men. But she has found that in London in similar circumstances she is not groped.

Of course, this is only one person but it is intriguing.

In discussion, I suggested that an Englishman – or at least some of them – may have an idea of himself as a ‘gentleman’. It is part of his self-image to behave in a certain way. It would hurt his image of himself to take advantage of the anonymity of crowded train to grope someone. Someone else suggested that in Japan, the important thing is how others see you. The Japanese woman said that people really care about the opinion of people they know. They do not care about the opinions of others.

Of course another possible explanation is that the position of women in Japan is different and they may be less likely to complain, The men would know that. In England the behaviour would carry a greater risk of the woman shouting out, even if the groper was not identified.

It is intriguing because the issue goes to what governs our ‘good’ behaviour. It is a matter of long training as a child? Do all people care about their ‘self-image’ or is it a bigger deal in some countries than others? Is there a different British and Japanese idea of good behaviour? Do Western countries have different frameworks for such moral decisions, too? In the Mediterranean, there is a big emphasis on extended families. But I get the impression that they care less about society as a whole than in Britain. Is that right and, if so, why?

I wonder if any experiments have been done to test the behaviour of different nationalities – like dropping a wallet on the pavement to see if the person who picks it up returns it to the owner or keeps the cash inside.

 

Posted by James Bartholomew Indexed in Behaviour & Crime
Permalink Leave a comment
Saturday

A Twitter conversation with an adviser to the Church of England

Tom Sefton

A pregnant woman has to walk 4.5 miles to collect a food parcel from a foodbank in B’ham. Is this the kind of society we want to live in?

 

James Bartholomew

@TASefton Is it a problem for the church that it is now seen as a body which demands government action on poverty rather than acting itself?

 

Tom Sefton

Foodbank I visited is run by an amazing church that IS acting. But, I don’t think Church can replace welfare state, do you?

 

James Bartholomew ‏@JGBartholomew

@TASefton I agree church cannot replace the welfare state but it gains respect for its charity, not for being the Labour party at prayer.

 

Tom Sefton ‏@TASefton

@JGBartholomew Church’s role is not only about charity, but also to speak out on behalf of the poor. This is biblical, not party political.

 

James Bartholomew ‏@JGBartholomew

@TASefton Idea that church has biblical endorsement for demanding ever more generous government welfare is unjustified and gives offence.

 

15 hrsTom Sefton ‏@TASefton

@JGBartholomew Bible says “defend the rights of the poor and needy”. Not unlimited welfare, but ensuring cuts don’t hit poorest hardest.

 

15 hrsJames Bartholomew ‏@JGBartholomew

@TASefton I won’t try to continue to debate in 140 characters but I wd be grateful if you could let me know where to find this quote. Rgds J

14 hrsTom Sefton ‏@TASefton

 

@JGBartholomew Proverbs 31:9, but also Psalms 82:3, Isaiah 10:1-2, Jeremiah 22:16, etc. This is why Bishops are speaking out in the Lords.

11 hrsTom Sefton ‏@TASefton

 

@JGBartholomew And one last question for you. I’m interested in why you think the Church might offend by speaking out on these issues.

 

3 minsJames Bartholomew ‏@JGBartholomew

@TASefton Church offends by implying that good, charitable people who take a different view on how best to help the poor are immoral.

 

Posted by James Bartholomew Indexed in Welfare benefits
Permalink 1 Comment
Thursday

Appearance on Newsnight

Newsnight on BBC2 is due to have a large segment on the welfare state tonight. I am to be one of the panellists. Apparently we will be looking at the change in attitudes to the welfare state.

Posted by James Bartholomew Indexed in General, Media, including BBC bias, Welfare benefits
Permalink Leave a comment
Friday

Don’t reform the NHS. Abolish it.

There is a scene near the beginning of the film, Casablanca, where a crime takes place and, in response, the chief of police commands, “Round up the usual suspects!”

He knows this will not reveal the culprit. Doubtless his staff knows, too. Everybody knows. But at least he can say that he is taking action.

The response to the horrific events  at Stafford Hospital is not wholly different.

David Cameron has announced that a Chief Inspector of Hospitals is going to be appointed. The author of the report, Robert Francis QC, made no fewer than 290 recommendations.  All this might be convincing if we had not been around this course many times before. Ever since the NHS was created – by the most Left-wing minister  in the post-war Labour government – there have been serious problems followed by reforms that were meant to solve everything.

In the 1970s,  one government thought that re-organisation as recommended by the firm McKinsey  would make things better. More recently the introduction of ‘professional management’  was going to improve it. Then targets were the answer. In fact, targets were probably part of the reason why Stafford treated its patients so badly.  I remember speaking to a surgeon who was incandescent after a weekend in which he had been instructed to operate on people with minor problems while others who had just broken their hips and lay in great misery and discomfort had to wait until Monday. Why? To meet targets.

Over the past year and a half, I have visited eleven countries looking at their welfare states. Among other things, I was trying to discover the best possible healthcare system. I would not claim to have found the perfect answer but one thing is starkly clear: the NHS is not it. In fact the NHS has claims to being the worst healthcare system in the advanced world.

If you look at almost most sensible measures, the UK comes out badly. Breast cancer survival rates? One of the worst. Colorectal cancer survival rates. One of the worst again. Number of MRI scanners per capita? One of the lowest. Number of CT scanners? Same again.

The OECD did a study to work out which of its member countries got the best healthcare in relation to the amount of money spent. The British NHS was one of the worst. It is not even good value.

There is no need to reform the NHS. It needs to be abolished. I should emphasise that I mean no disrespect to those doctors, nurses and others in the NHS who work in extremely difficult conditions to the best of their ability. Their efforts are all the more admirable if they persist in discouraging circumstances. Incidentally  it is worth remembering that doctors were against the original creation of the NHS.

The essential flaw is that is fact that it is a monopoly. When providers know you might take your custom elsewhere, they shape up. That is what is lacking. Choice and competition exist in practically every other system in the advanced world. In the Netherlands and Switzerland you can choose your insurer. In France, you can choose your doctor and can go straight to a consultant without visiting a GP. In Singapore everybody has a health savings account and can use the money in it to pay for their healthcare.

People will say, “Oh but the British love the NHS. It even featured in the Olympics opening ceremony.” Actually the love is skin-deep. A few years ago I took part in a BBC Radio 4 programme in which I advocated the abolition of the NHS. When I told others I was doing this, they were surprised and some were even shocked at first. But then typically they would pause and say something like, “Actually, I remember when my father was in hospital. He was left alone for hours, disoriented and ignored.”

During the programme itself, I was challenged by experts in the studio and members of the public phoning in. Afterwards the producer looked astonished as he told me that the calls and texts had broken clearly in favour of people agreeing with me.

The deaths at Stafford were not an aberration. They were the tip of an iceberg. Most NHS deaths, such as from cancer treated too late or with out-of-date drugs or not at all, go unrecorded. How many people have to die unnecessarily before we accept that the NHS  – a state monopoly – is inherently a bad system?  For the sake of those we love and for ourselves, it must go.

This is the original draft of an article which appears in today’s edition of City AM. The link is here but it is better to copy and paste it rather than click on it. http://www.cityam.com/forum/there-are-alternatives-the-nhs-we-must-face-its-failure

Posted by James Bartholomew Indexed in Healthcare and the NHS, Reform
Permalink 4 Comments
Friday

‘Affordable housing’ may lead to less housing and thus higher prices

It is a requirement that builders who wish to create large new developments that they must include a certain amount of ‘affordable housing’. The idea is to ensure that more housing is created for those who are less well off. There may also be an idea that it is desirable in various ways to mix rich and poor together in the same localities. But as with many attempts to legislate that good things should happen, there are unintended consequences.

An article by Robert Bailey in the London Property Review suggests that one of these is that builders develop fewer homes. I guess that one reason is that they will receive less money and therefore there are projects at the margin which cease to be attractive because of the cost of providing the affordable housing at below market value. But more specifically he suggests that some developers create small numbers of huge luxury flats in preference to large numbers of other flats because in this way they can avoid the requirement to create affordable housing. If that is correct, then the affordable housing rules are causing fewer homes to be created which, logically, should result in the average price of housing being higher than it otherwise would be. A higher price for housing disproportionately disadvantages those who are less well off.

Posted by James Bartholomew Indexed in Housing
Permalink Leave a comment
Thursday

The persecution of home-schoolers

This account of the persecution of parents who wished to home-school their children in Germany is horrendous. It is extraordinary that a country can be so illiberal and intolerant. It is suggested that the law dates from the Nazi era which makes it all the more strange that it has not been revoked. It is disappointing, too, that Sweden apparently makes outlaws out of those who wish to educate their own children. The totalitarian urge is fascinating and hard to understand.

You might think that Germany and Sweden would be ashamed to find themselves less tolerant of the freedom of the individual than countries such as Russia.

The idea of home-schoolers coming together to support each other internationally seems a worthy aim.

 

Posted by James Bartholomew Indexed in Home education
Permalink 4 Comments
Tuesday

The ‘vision’ for welfare that I offered on “The State of Welfare” on BBC radio 4 today.

James Bartholomew

James Bartholomew is the author of The Welfare State We’re In.

The welfare system proposed by Lord Beveridge was a good one.

But gradually his system was corrupted by politicians who, unlike him, knew nothing of welfare. They offered more and more money in benefits with fewer conditions and did not think about the long term consequences.

And so it was that – unintentionally – we lurched from a sensible system to a welfare tragedy. We came to have permanent mass unemployment. In 16 years, we had more than a doubling of people claiming incapacity benefit. We have had a surge in children brought up by relatively poor, lone parents. And a social housing disaster. Meanwhile saving by anyone relatively poor was turned into a mug’s game. And following on from this came fraud and damage to our culture.

The public has seen that the system has gone wrong.

The task now is to get back to a more sensible policy. This is something that many countries –Denmark and the Netherlands among others – have been working on in the past 20 years. Britain is rather late into the game.

There is more than one way to make things better but my vision for a reformed welfare state starts ideally with returning the emphasis to one of the main planks of the Beveridge system – unemployment insurance. One good thing about unemployment insurance is that nobody is entitled to have it until they have worked for a good period of time. Work comes first. Even more important, the benefit is not means-tested, so those who fear becoming unemployed, have less reason to avoid saving.

Then, once unemployment insurance benefit runs out, means-tested benefit should kick in at a significantly lower level. The recipient should be obliged to sell assets such as cars and homes in high-value areas. If they are in rented accommodation, they could be required to move to a lower rent flat. This is how it works in Sweden.

Most important of all, as a condition of receiving benefits – both unemployment benefit and means-tested benefit – each unemployed person should be required actively to see work and accept help with overcoming typical barriers to work such as functional illiteracy. If he or she can find no work within a given period, publicly subsidised work should be found. Work is the best welfare.

The personal allowance should be raised to £12,000 so no low-income person is discouraged by tax from working. Child benefit would be replaced by child personal tax allowances, so people, again, would have every reason to work. The minimum wage should be abolished.

Lone parents should not be given council flats. They should be expected to live with their parents or else work to pay for rented accommodation. If they cannot manage this, hostels of a very modest sort should be provided, as in Italy.

It should be possible to opt out of government-run unemployment, health and sickness insurance and choose instead schemes run by mutual societies, trade unions or commercial companies.

Radical reform of Britain’s state schools is also a vital part of making people more employable. Reformed schools are needed to teach all children to read, not just four out of five.

This is just a part of what I would suggest to create a welfare state that is sustainable and a country that is decent and self-sufficient.

Posted by James Bartholomew Indexed in Reform, Welfare benefits
Permalink 3 Comments