The National Health service and the Welfare State have come to be used as interchangeable terms, and in the mouths of some people as terms of reproach. Why this is so is not difficult to understand if you view everything from the angle of a strictly individualistic competitive society. A free health service is pure Socialism and as such it is opposed to the hedonism of capitalist society.
"The collective principle asserts that... no society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of a lack of means."
Aneurin Bevin, Labour politician who played a key part in the creation of the NHS and Welfare State.
"Marxism taught him that society must be changed swiftly, intrepidly, fundamentally, if the transformation was not to to be overturned by counter-revolution."
Labour leader Michael Foot on Anuerin Bevan and the creation of the Welfare State
When in 1945, Clement Attlee, the leader of the victorious Labour government stood poised to take over government from the wartime coalition having vanquished its charismatic head, the Tory leader Winston Churchill, at the polls, he must have felt tremendous excitement at the prospects for change that lay ahead of him, but daunted too, no doubt. Daunted by a country left broke and broken by six years of war, by a Europe almost destroyed and with millions of its people dead, daunted as well by a population that was sick of war, hardship and suffering and who wanted societal change in a big, major way.
Fearful too probably of a glowering, threatening Stalinist Russia whose liberation of Poland, Hungry, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, the Ukraine and numerous other smaller states had turned into occupation and whose desire for the h-bomb, nuclear capabilities and promoting communism by force would beget the Cold War within years. Fearful also perhaps of the expectations of his party and most of all of his party's supporters, the electorate, who had been promised the introduction of a Welfare State and a National Health Service as recommended by the Beveridge report three years earlier. Yet Attlee and his fellow supporters could never have envisaged the beast they were to unleash nor the wider changes its creation would have on the social fabric of the UK in the years ahead.
It's probable, though, that the man Attlee choose as his welfare champion, Nye Bevan, did know and in fact would have welcomed the change for he would have known that this was a change that, short of a revolution or seismic social upheaval, was irreversible. What Bevan could not have foreseen though was how weak and loathsome the introduction of the welfare state would make the population. For how could the introduction of a system designed to protect all from the adverse effects of poverty, hunger, sickness, homelessness and unemployment end up ultimately undermining and threatening the very people and the state it was set up to protect?
No one advocates a society that would see the ill die or the sick left to rot at the side of the road while the fit and able strut past seemingly oblivious to their plight rather it is the degree to which the state intervenes and our response to it that matters. Bevan saw the creation of a welfare state not just as an act of benevolence by the state but rather as a Trojan horse that would, with its promise of a ‘cradle to grave’ support system, herald the end of the old order. For Bevan the England of class, and the Tory party that he perceived as representing it were; ‘as far as I am concerned... lower than vermin’.
The creation of the welfare state therefore wasn’t just about alleviating poverty and sickness it was also about destroying an old, ruling order. Of cutting the hamstrings of an elite so that no matter what, the welfare state would stay and in that Bevan and the supporters of the new order were successful. Not even Margaret Thatcher’s monetarist gurus Alan Walters or Milton Friedman were able to persuade the party to pursue a policy of privatising the health service. Whatever else, and whichever party was in power the welfare state has been safe and has grown. Each decade seeing new departments, increased budgets, more employed by it, and even more dependent on it, until now over 50 per cent of the UK work force is dependent on the public sector for their livelihood.
Beyond that is a mass of people hidden and lost in statistics who exist totally because of the state, people who are dependent on it for their food, their clothing, their homes, their health and their life, from the day they are born to the day they die. A growing number of people in fact that whose purpose in existing is created by, and is dependent on, the State and in turn whose existence the Welfare state depends for its own existence.
This counter dependency has grown inextricably since the Welfare State’s birth in 1945 and is now at a tipping point as immigration, massive unsustainable state and individual borrowing, diminishing tax revenues and a dwindling private sector work force are combining finally to deny it any more money and to secondly overload a Welfare system that is bloated and put upon to the point of collapse.
Further the dependents and recipients of the State’s largesse are neither grateful nor accepting of their lot, rather a large section of them have become an underclass, criminalized, feckless, and dangerous. Many prey on, abuse and milk the system for all they can, new arrivals in the UK are helped by agents of the State, or advisory bodies funded by the State, or by lawyers grant aided by the State, to get the best possible out of the Welfare system regardless of whether they or their families or their dependents have contributed to its coffers. In fact for many immigrants the UK represents a land of limitless resource for the minimum of input. Not so much a land of the free as of the fee.
Fees, which like the treasury bonds that the Government issues against its borrowing and which are sold on the open markets but which in reality are currently bought by the government with its own money which has been created out of thin air by printing it in a policy euphemistically called ‘quantitive easing’, our welfare state pays itself. Yet it doesn’t stop there as it creates and recruits more and more advisers whose jobs are to find as many new and clever ways as possible of extracting money from their own employer; the welfare state. It is in fact repeating the cycle with more and more demands being made on its own financial resources yet at the same time creating nothing of worth to sell on to third parties. Even the people it nurtures from baby to adulthood in the main become immediate dependents on the state, rather than taxable workers paying contributions to it. And their children in turn will do the same creating an ever-expanding circle that consumes all and creates nothing except more demands on the State.
The dream of a ‘cradle to grave’ welfare state where no one went hungry or was denied help when sick is now in danger of sucking the life-blood out of the population it was set up to help. Now that our national debts have reached levels that are unsustainable our politicians are being forced to address them. Yet even though events are forcing the states hand still no political party has the Will or the courage to tackle Bevan’s beast of burden full on. Instead politicians of all parties fudge the issues or talk in vagaries of a recovery that may or may not happen and which they assume will save the day.
Right now no politician or party will do more than tinker with the Welfare State’s budgets or its vast army of staff or its staggering number of dependents and recipients. Rather the government does nothing, which is fine as long as the resources are there to sustain it. But what happens when the legions of new, non tax contributing arrivals and the constantly demanding underclass and the growing numbers of unemployed suddenly find that the monies running out and there aren’t enough taxes coming in to pay for it? Then what? Borrow more? Tax More? Go to the IMF?
The fact is we have created a monster that has in turn led a large and growing number of people to expect the state to do everything for them regardless of merit or entitlement, Further like its clients, the Welfare State assumes that there will always be enough money there to cover its needs, whatever they are. To the Welfare state its needs are paramount, they usurp other sectors like the military, or the environment, and its budgets are seen as sacred. This bloated state cow is a sacred state cow and as such cannot be touched.
The Welfare State is weakening the country as much as its recipients are weakened by it. People no longer feel compelled to strive or look to provide for themselves instead they look to the state and the state in turn expects to provide. Each is sapping the other's strengths and corrupting the nations Will to do and for people to stand alone and to see the state as a last resource rather than a first resource, The state is consuming money at levels and as a percentage of our GDP that are ludicrous and is spending with a ferocity that borders on hysteria. And like the lottery winners who adopt a policy of ‘spend, spend, spend’ the money is going to run out.
Since 1945 governments have come and gone, chancellors have cut and spent, Bevan’s words and those of his colleagues have faded into history yet his, and Attlee’s, Trojan Horse has morphed from a lean stallion into a bloated beast, its body grossly obese and its strength and spirit sapped from years of abuse and overwork. And despite belated attempts to save it, it continues to consume, grow and decay simultaneously, as if the combined forces of good and evil were, like cancer and non-cancerous cells, constantly waging war inside it.
For more than anything now, the UK is defined by its welfare state and the welfare state in turns defines its people. Some foreigners may still be deluded enough to think that we still wander around in bowler hats and drink tea at the first sign of trouble but most see us for what we are and are becoming, a nation of the ill and the feign, whose priorities are drink and obsessing over vacuous celebrities whose fame, more often than not, is based not on a talent or achievement, but like many of the recipients of state welfare, is merely for existing.
It would be a great irony therefore if the verminous class-ridden society so hated by Nye Bevan was in fact being re-created inversely by the very Welfare State he had set up to destroy it. For soon the government, if they are to maintain their precious public sector untouched and uncut, will have to tax, exploit and cajole and suck dry all that aren’t part of this new Class in order to survive.
Americans in turn should beware of Presidents with Healthcare reform plans....