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What’s the modern purpose of the welfare state?


Comforting as it may be to think otherwise, the welfare state was not conceived as a gesture of munificent goodwill to the indigent, or even as a system from which we all benefit, but as a necessary bulwark to a moribund, failing capitalism (The ‘welfare state’ should be something to be proud of, 1 November). It was a preventive measure against revolution and rooted in the politics of the day. Well-educated, well-housed and healthy workers were likely to be not only less radical but also more productive. Supported by policies aimed at maintaining full employment, the social security system was mainly intended to bridge the short gaps between periods of employment, its costs met by a system of national insurance.


There was also a measure of synergy in the system. Educated and secure workers were less likely to be unhealthy. They were even likely to be more thoughtful, knowledgeable consumers, wary of the wiles of the marketplace and its purveyors of snake oil. So those great props of the welfare state – education, housing, health and security, to which should be added the now virtually defunct legal aid – were a bargain that worked pretty well until the arrival of neoliberalism and Thatcherism in the late 1970s. Sadly, politics is more likely to succeed in the defence of the welfare state than is humanitarianism. It is those who support the future survival of capitalism who need to get behind the welfare state.

Roy Boffy

Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands


• How right Nicolas Timmins is when he writes that the welfare state is something to be proud of. I was born in the early 1950s, into a family beset by poverty, ill-health and unemployment. Home was a war-damaged slum, outside toilet, no heating, four to a bed. Left alone, my parents, despite their best efforts, would have been unable to fully care for me. But with the state’s help and support, the state caring for my welfare, I flourished. I was able to complete my schooling, go to university, earn enough to support myself, my parents and my own family, watch my two children thrive and prosper. The welfare state should be cherished and recognised for what it really is: the state – me and you and everyone else – caring for the welfare of others.

Mike Storey

Holme, Cambridgeshire


• From my recent casework it seems as though the five pillars of the welfare state that Nicholas Timmins identifies are beginning to topple like dominoes, bringing down decent citizens. The first pillar to fall in each instance seems to be the NHS; in particular, the difficulties our poorest constituents face when trying to access an NHS specialist. The problems caused by the fall of this pillar lead to others – social security, housing and education – similarly collapsing.


One example is the length of time – anywhere between six months and a year – families must wait for an appointment with a paediatrician. For families with disabled children, this is their only chance of gaining an all-important note which then enables the right level of benefit, a place at a suitable school, and a home which fully accommodates their circumstances. Likewise, people who suffer with mental health difficulties find themselves on long waiting lists to see a mental health specialist. If they are assessed for disability benefits during this waiting period, they are unable to present a specialist’s note. It has been reported by Feeding Birkenhead that the absence of a note is being used against them in the assessment, resulting in a wrongly withdrawn or drastically reduced award.


We are seeing now a direct link between the strain on the NHS and restricted access to social security, schooling and housing – the “five giants” seem to be waking one another from their slumber. Equally alarming is the welfare state’s newfound role as an active creator of destitution, in the form of universal credit, which social security was designed with the aim of abolishing.

Frank Field MP

Labour, Birkenhead


• Both Frances Ryan (Universal credit tears away a lifeline for disabled people) and Daniel Lavelle (‘I just exist between appointments. I have lost hope’) in the Guardian on 1 November highlight the shocking way people with mental health difficulties are being marginalised. This grieves me enormously. I and colleagues in the Open University spent years in the 1990s and beyond campaigning within the world of further and higher education for mental health difficulties to be included under the “disability” umbrella in terms of financial, educational and counselling support offered to students. Attitudes in society in general seemed to be moving in parallel. We appeared to be getting somewhere.


Recent policies, such as universal credit and depletion of funds in the mental health sector of the NHS, reflect a dramatic reversal of all the progress that was made. Removing people’s benefits to the point that they become even more ill, and thus forcing them to confront the disgracefully inadequate support for people with mental health issues within the NHS, is utterly disgraceful. It is time for this government to be ousted once and for all.

Chris Youle

Brockenhurst, Hampshire

Publicerat klockan 10:12, den 23 november 2017
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