I was reminded yet again today, not that I needed reminding, how our so-called society is falling to pieces. Not in Happy Valley, where we’re still going to work, living with our families, near our friends, going on holiday, having barbecues and, perhaps sometimes, forgetting just how lucky we are.
The welfare state, rubbished by right wing politicians since the year dot, seriously undermined by the Tories and Lib Dems since 2010 and ritually abused by the red tops of the gutter press, was and still is one of the truly great inventions of humankind. The onslaught of the right, deriding the welfare state, presenting the most vulnerable as scroungers and skivers, distorted what it really was, targeted towards the “five giant evils in society: squalor, ignorance, want, idleness and disease.” When people say we need a smaller welfare state, these are the five things they think don’t matter.
Squalor? Today? Really? Oh yes. I saw it in my previous job in the civil service and I still see it today. I visited houses where poor people lived, hooked on drugs, bringing up young children very badly, although in the best way they could, with pets defecating on the floor. There are many people, young and old, who still live in squalor today.
Ignorance? of course. Because of the gross inequality of opportunity our unbalanced society encourages, the rich get better chances in life than the less rich. This merely exacerbates the problem. The words of politicians, currently the leaders of all the major parties, in their own ways weasel words. If your child attends a failing state school, will s/he have the same opportunities as the child who went to Eton? Be honest.
Want? Depends what you call want. How about dignity in old age, dignity at any age for those who are sick and disabled? How about parents missing out on meals to feed their kids or senior citizens switching off the heating because they can’t afford to heat their flats? We might not see them if we don’t look, but I see them.
Idleness? It’s an epidemic. How many young people are not in work or education? Or countless thousands of people who have amazing talents and skills but they remain abandoned on inadequate – yes, inadequate – benefits?
Disease? The poorer you are, the earlier you die. And even if you are not in abject poverty, you may be abandoned to sheer misery if you suffer from an incurable illness or condition. No matter that you may be all torn up inside. Your life is not worth anything like that of a rich person.
My examples are just snippets, I know, but I am making the point that the welfare state is not there for the small minority of benefit fraudsters who abuse the system but for all of us when we are in hard times. I am making the point for my loyal reader because the story you will get from Rupert Murdoch, Paul Dacre and co will be every different with the terminal cancer sufferer being lumped in with the desperate man who does a few days work on a building site to get a few extra quid, without telling the social.
With council budgets being savaged – don’t forget that barely half of George Osborne’s cuts have been implemented – we will be told about “cutting out waste” and “efficiencies” as people lose their home helps and carers. And the victims are everywhere. In the town and in the country. One day it could be you.
This situation happens because we tolerate it. And we tolerate it because we accept that some things are not important enough to be paid for through taxation and charities can pick up the slack instead. Even if some things are essential to life and basic dignity.
The basic tenets of the Beveridge welfare state are still the same. The more things change, the more they stay the same and the crisis that is building in our country is largely unseen. Away from the all seeing eye, society is breaking down, slowly but surely, and soon it will be much faster.
I suspect there is a bit of “I’ll believe it when I see it” about the cracks in society, but trust me they are already there and they are growing. Eventually, it will come down to the kind of country we want. And if we want a better society that cares for those who cannot care for themselves, we will need to pay for it, hence the welfare state. If we don’t want to pay for it, then what sort of society will we become? How happy will your valley be, then?