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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

remodelling the welfare state « Previous | |Next »
April 21, 2013

Ross McKibbin has an interesting article in The London Review of Books on the remodelling of the welfare state in the UK by the Cameron Government. Gone is the idea of a Big Society and the associated conception of charities taking over the delivery of government services as they are more sensitive, more caring, more vigorous than the sclerotic state bureaucracy.

McKibbin says that:

What really drives this legislation is ideology and electoral calculation. Many Tories simply hate the welfare state and its beneficiaries, and as the party becomes increasingly right-wing so the determination to do away with the state system, or diminish it as much as can safely be done, becomes stronger. Over the last five years the Tories have succeeded, quite illegitimately, in presenting a crisis of the banks as a crisis of the state generally and the welfare state in particular. The new legislation has also to be seen in the context of the cuts to benefits already introduced by the coalition and the wholesale onslaught on the remaining public functions of the state. Many of its functions, of course, have already been privatised, with punitive consequences.

The electoral calculation is to mobilise those perceived to be hardworking and striving – that is, most people – against the scroungers and skivers who spend the whole day in bed: to turn the not very well off but not really poor against the really poor, whose creature is, of course, the Labour Party.

The rhetoric of George Osborne, the UK Chancellor, is that scroungers are living off the taxpayers and the cuts in welfare were therefore fair, and you should be grateful to the Conservative Party for arranging them. It is creating a political culture geared towards private aspiration and a hostility to the common good.

McKibben makes the interesting point that the Conservative's strategy is one of:

turning the working class against itself is not new – it was practised by the Conservatives in the 1930s with some success. It exploits a tendency in working-class life for people to distrust their own class more than they distrust the people above them. Hitherto, negative stereotyping has worked.

The reality is that the great bulk of welfare payment goes to those in work, not to the scroungers and the feckless, and this points to the increasingly straitened condition of the strivers.

In Australia Osborne's strivers are Howard's battlers or Gillard's working poor. The public has a crude conception of the welfare state and is largely unaware of the extent to which it is also dependent on it. The conservative media have done a pretty good job in demonising the imaginary scrounger class. This covers up the political dissonance in which the middle class come to believe they are genuine battlers entitled to government handouts, be it family tax benefits or subsidised private education for their children.

Any effort to maintain the progressive nature of the taxation system, or to redistribute income, is decried as ''class warfare'' - an expression of the new conservative political correctness that demands the politics of austerity, a small state and lower taxes. If Australia faces a decade of deficits, then the welfare state's services for the poor has to be cut back. There is no alternative.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 3:00 PM | | Comments (3)


It's a crude but effective message. And it's another reason BOTH major parties sicken me... Single mums are a drain on the taxpayer and should get off their bums and earn their keep.

Yet... negative gearing, tax cuts, "captial loss" tax deductions on shares, and first-homeowner grants etc... are... apparently... sensible entitlements for the "battlers" in the swing seats.

Not to mention all sorts of "incentives" offered to companies to relocate their businesses.


Various studies suggest a cause and effect relationship between unemployment and suicide. For example: Arthur Delaney, Joblessness and Hopelessness: The link between unemployment and suicide (Huffington Post). Then there is the psychology of scapegoating, which politicians, strangely conservative ones, with no knowledge of history do not understand, or so they claim.

Osborne's policies are been implicitly supported by the Liberal Democrats, which, I imagine, is going to represent an immediate electoral problem for them.

political dissonance---many believe that they pay too much tax but also maintain that state and federal governments should spend more on public services.