Dismantling the Welfare State

Not that there was ever any doubt about it in my mind, but David Cameron's announcement of his intended changes to Council and Social Housing tenure was delivered with a few lines that made his wider intentions obvious.

Speaking in Birmingham, he said: "There is a question mark about whether, in future, we should be asking when you are given a council home, is it for a fixed period? Because maybe in five or 10 years you will be doing a different job and be better paid and you won't need that home, you will be able to go into the private sector."

A consultation paper, due to be published as early as tomorrow, will say the new short-term tenure would be for local councils to implement, but would involve regular reviews of tenancies to see if the council tenant still needed such a large property or had sufficient income to shift to the private sector.

Guardian, 3 August 2010

Will the same thinking be applied to areas other than housing? Is the idea that better paid people will not need to use the NHS because they "will be able to go into the private sector"? Will better paid people not need to use publicly funded schools because their children "will be able to go into the private sector"?

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I'm quite sure that's the ConDem agenda. They see public services merely as a safety net for those unfortunate enough not to be able to pay to go private. What we are seeing is the continuation of the previous Tory administrations' plans to dismantle the welfare state. The cuts that are being implemented by this government (and we have only seen the tip of the iceberg so far, just wait for the Comprehensive Spending Review in October) are only being made on the pretext of reducing the deficit. This is from later in the article:

Cameron today urged the public to recognise that the deficit was a moral issue and suggested public spending would not be restored to its current levels when the economy improves.

"Should we cut things now and then go back later and try and restore them?" Cameron asked. "I think we should try to avoid that approach … people should open their minds and find new ways of doing more for less. We're going to have to change the way we work. How can we do things differently and better to give the value for money?"

So reducing the level of public spending is a moral issue? That tells us a lot about Tory morality. So far as social housing is concerned, we in Wales can only be grateful that we—by the skin of our teeth—have some measure of protection as a result of the Housing LCO. But I doubt we will be completely immune from the effects of these proposals. Equally we have some ability to protect ourselves from the creeping privatization of health and education. But we are heavily exposed in other areas.

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With the LibDems in Wales bending over themselves to applaud what the ConDem coalition is doing, it means that we in Plaid Cymru and Labour have to fight together to protect the things that matter to us as a society. But the Tories are nothing if not pragmatic; they will happily contemplate Wales gaining more control over the other aspects of the welfare state providing we accept the cuts. In fact they will love it, because they will then blame us for the consequences, rather than themselves. But that's politics. We will have to accept the cuts come what may, so we might as well fight to make sure that with the cuts comes control of how they money for the currently undevolved areas is spent. As one example that I've noted before, a clear majority of people in Wales want decisions on the welfare and benefits system devolved to Wales:

Survey respondents were asked about which level of government "ought to make most of the important decisions for Wales" for four key policy areas: Welfare Benefits, the National Health Service, Schools, and Defence and Foreign Affairs. Results are presented in Figure 6.3 below. These show not only clear majority public support for the devolved level of government to have control over areas where they already make many decisions—on schooling and healthcare—but also a similar level of public endorsement for those powers to extend to an area like welfare benefits. The latter is striking, as it is a policy area that currently remains very much reserved to Westminster.

Source

The harsh political reality for Welsh Labour is to accept that people in England have voted for this right wing agenda. In fact, even in the previous Westminster election in 2005, more people in England voted Tory than Labour. Therefore the chances of rebuilding what the Tories are systematically dismantling are minimal. Thirteen years of new Labour did not reverse anything that the Tories shifted to the right when they were in power before, even at best they just slowed things down. Now the Tories are back in the driving seat, with their foot hard on the accelerator.

Once you come to realize that England is moving in a direction that most people in Wales do not want to follow, the only response is to fight for the decisions that affect Wales to be made in Wales. Only in that way can we hope to maintain and develop the sort of society we want.

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12 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Once you come to realize that England is moving in a direction that most people in Wales do not want to follow, the only response is to fight for the decisions that affect Wales to be made in Wales. Only in that way can we hope to maintain and develop the sort of society we want."

Perhaps you will stop calling for English taxpayers to fund "the sort of society we want" then. The whole country is broke - if Wales wants to maintain the same level of spending whilst England cuts back then Wales will have to start generating the money for it itself. You can't have your cake and eat it.

MH said...

Very funny, Anon. Has the penny only just dropped? The whole point of an independent Wales is for us to set different public spending priorities to suit what we are prepared to pay for.

The Druid of Anglesey said...

MH - I'm all for an independent Wales. But if that is your aim, here are two questions for you:
(1) If you want an independent Wales why are you calling for the Barnett Formula to be rejigged? I can understand that if you want to stay in the Union (in which case these is a good case for it to be based on need as suggested by Jerry Holtham), but otherwise why would a nationalist want more money from England?
(2) With a overlarge public sector and under-developed private sector in Wales, how to do you plan to retain the current levels of spending once Independent?
I ask these questions not to make a point, but to understand better your thinking.

MH said...

Druid, if you are all for an independent Wales, I'm sure you will have answered these questions for yourself. Aren't the answers obvious?

1. While we are part of the UK we should get a fair share of its spending. The UK government distributes much of its undevolved spending on the basis of need rather than population and, for those areas which are devolved, Whitehall departments distribute money to English regions on the basis of need. Barnett works only on the basis of population.

2. What I would do is not necessarily what an elected government of Wales would do, but with that proviso I don't envisage maintaining the current levels of spending. We would have to rearrange our priorities and get rid of things we considered superfluous.

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Some things are easy to list, but the main thing we would have to address is reducing the amount spent on welfare and increasing the numbers in work. That's an equal concern to the RUK, of course, but the point would be that we, with a population of 3m as opposed to 60m, would be better able to tailor solutions that work for us rather than be at the wrong end of a one-size-fits-all solution that has to (simply because of the numbers involved) take more account of the problems caused by over-development and over-centralization in London (and the areas within commuting distance of it) than the lack of sustainable development in the peripheral areas.

I would also be wary of being too simplistic about the distinction between public and private. There is no reason why a publicly owned enterprise should not contribute every bit as much to our economy as a privately owned one. As an example, I'd expect Gwynt y Môr to make profits and be taxed on them. But 30% of it is in public ownership ... the only problem is that the public who own that 30% are the people of Munich rather than the people of Wales (or even the people of Conwy, if you prefer to be more local).

Cambria Politico said...

We've just posted an article related to this. The author (Bellwhether) is speculating on the 'behind the scenes' strategy of the Tories - why they are moving so fast to dismantle government.
See http://cambriapolitico.com/2010/08/condems-and-the-black-swan/
BTW you have written an excellent article as always.

Anonymous said...

I find myself agreeing with Plaid and the Tories.

I agree with Plaid and the need to prevent the sales of council homes, but I also agree with Cameron. Why should someone inhert a council home from their parents. Is not the idea that people who can, 'move on' so that those more needy than them (usually younger people) can have a home?

The more Plaid members attack every Tory policy the more their strengthen the Labour party as it implies that Labour is OK. The only Plaid politician who's come close to makin Labour look out of touch and culpable for the economic mess they've left us is Chris Franks AM who rooted out the payments given to retired NHS Board Members - a classic Labour mismanagement. Labour is worried about more of these stories getting out. If Plaid want to make some headway in 2011 they'd be better of exposing Labour's client state rather than coming out with Pavlovian anti-Tory rhetoric.


Mr Bach

Anonymous said...

I'm not in favour of dismantling the Welfare State but I am in favour of dismantling the Labour State.

As someone said, 'community does exist it's just that it isn't the same as the state'.

From a British perspective, I think Cameron is gearing up to be a great PM. His comments on Gaza, Pakistan the US have been bold and brave. Ken Clarke is doing what no Labour Minister did on prison reform. Cameron's cutting down the number of MPs (i.e. less Labour carpet baggers!).

Labour can huff and puff but, and despite all the big class warrior talk now, London Labour (Welsh Labour's masters) will end uup signing up to Cameron's agenda.

Cameron is going to win the next election.

MH said...

It probably won't be obvious to others, but the comments by Mr Bach at 20:43 and Anon at 21:14 are from the same person.

He said, "The more Plaid members attack every Tory policy the more they strengthen the Labour party as it implies that Labour is OK."

It's interesting to see a Tory supporter reflect exactly the same "It's either us or the Tories" mantra that the likes of Peter Hain repeat at every opportunity.

In Wales, the choice is rather wider.

Anonymous said...

"Why should someone inhert a council home from their parents. Is not the idea that people who can, 'move on' so that those more needy than them (usually younger people) can have a home?"

If they pay their rent on time and have lived in that house then sorry but why shouldn't they inherit it?

A house is a living home, not just a piece of property.

These are the values the housing association movement has worked with for decades which is why tenants have a human right to secure tenancy.

If people are able to move on then that's great.

I personally see Plaid as an alternative to both Labour and the Tories. I like Plaid Cymru's policies on housing, health and education. They are completely different to the Tory policies on housing, health and education.

Mr Bach/Anon is stuck in a British mindset where it's either pro-Labour or anti-Labour. The reality is much more nuanced than that. The Tories for example wholehartedly supported Labour's mismanagement of the economy.

"Cameron is going to win the next election."

Cameron is not standing in the next election, which will be May 2010. We focus on Welsh elections as a priority, where Plaid has an even playing field.

You are a Brit Nat.

Cibwr said...

Of course when there are council houses that are being under used then why not give incentives for people to move into more appropriate housing? But incentives not the boot! Council houses are only inherited if the surviving relative/partner is already resident, so Cameron is either making a cheap point with no substance or he intends to remove security from sitting residents.

The Druid of Anglesey said...

MH - I apologise for the delayed reply.

"1. While we are part of the UK we should get a fair share of its spending. The UK government distributes much of its undevolved spending on the basis of need rather than population and, for those areas which are devolved, Whitehall departments distribute money to English regions on the basis of need. Barnett works only on the basis of population."

I think we can agree on that.


"2. What I would do is not necessarily what an elected government of Wales would do, but with that proviso I don't envisage maintaining the current levels of spending. We would have to rearrange our priorities and get rid of things we considered superfluous. "

Again, I agree with you here. But I would ask why you think an elected government of Wales would act differently.

"Some things are easy to list, but the main thing we would have to address is reducing the amount spent on welfare and increasing the numbers in work. That's an equal concern to the RUK, of course, but the point would be that we, with a population of 3m as opposed to 60m, would be better able to tailor solutions that work for us rather than be at the wrong end of a one-size-fits-all solution that has to (simply because of the numbers involved) take more account of the problems caused by over-development and over-centralization in London (and the areas within commuting distance of it) than the lack of sustainable development in the peripheral areas."

Again I find myself agreeing.

"I would also be wary of being too simplistic about the distinction between public and private. There is no reason why a publicly owned enterprise should not contribute every bit as much to our economy as a privately owned one."

Yes, I agree that publicly owned enterprises may contribute to the economy *if well managed*. Though I would add that public owned businesses, without the necessity to compete or make profit in the normal sense of the words, may not contribute as much as it could do.

"As an example, I'd expect Gwynt y Môr to make profits and be taxed on them. But 30% of it is in public ownership ... the only problem is that the public who own that 30% are the people of Munich rather than the people of Wales (or even the people of Conwy, if you prefer to be more local)."

Isn't this rather a large problem. I often hear people in pubs tell me that when Wales is Independent we will be able to sell our water and energy to England and through that sustain current levels of public spending in Wales, despite a probable significant reduction in tax funds. My point here is that these facilities, whether they are the new Wylfa B, Gwynt Y Mor, or any other company, are to whatever extent private enterprises. Will they generate sufficient taxable profits to deliver the amount of money necessary?

MH said...

I'm not sure that anyone will read this after so long, Druid. Unless they have email notification.

We agree on most things. Please don't read anything more into 2 than that different people have different ideas about what to spend money on, and the overall provision of public services. That's politics. Scandinavia is not the USA. I'm fairly sure our spectrum will be more to the left than is presently the case in the RUK. But in our terms, an independent Wales will be just as likely to elect a centre right government than a centre left ... a Green one as much as an exploitative one ... one with centralizing tendencies as much as one that devolves power to local authorities.

The mistake most people make is that because Plaid Cymru (and probably the Greens) is the only party that wants independence, an independent Wales could only work by following Plaid's policies. We're just the vanguard. Independence will probably not come until other parties emerge that support inependence, or current ones change their minds and come round. Just like CiU in Catalunya.

As for water and energy, I certainly don't think these will be our only source of income. But energy prices are going to do nothing except rise, and climate change will put water at a premium. These things are already happening. If we choose, there's nothing to stop us nationalizing certain key industries and returning them to public ownership, providing we fairly compensate the owners.

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