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International Socialism, Spring 1960


Harold Freedman

Welfare State?


From International Socialism (1st series), No. 1, Spring 1960, p. 30.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg, with thanks to Paul Blackledge.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Casualties of the Welfare State
Audrey Harvey
The Fabian Society. 2/6

This is one of the first Fabian Tracts in the series, Socialism in the Sixties. The author is concerned in the first place to repudiate the myth of the over-indulgent State, drawing her examples from the idiotic anomalies and conditions attached to National Insurance provisions, which “hardly look like State indulgencies and plainly are not insurance in the proper use of the word”.

She reminds us that “over a million people in the Welfare State were (in 1958) living below subsistence level” and “that for of all assisted people the minimum rates of assistance were considered ... to be insufficient”. These are the blessings of a State charity which people, even in the worst of circumstances, are naturally reluctant to seek – “I hate the thought of the place. I feel really degraded. They give you the impression that you’re begging.”

The author goes on to deal with the appalling housing problem.

“It has been estimated on the basis of a large scale enquiry made by the National Housing and Town Planning Council, in March 1959 that in England and Wales there were about 1,500,000 applicants for council housing, representing roughly 5,000,000 people of all ages, of which about 2,000,000 are in urgent need: while in Scotland, and particularly in Glasgow, the situation is even worse.”

The antics of the unscrupulous landlords, now given the green light by the Tory government are also analysed.

“I have come across many cases in London where two unfurnished slum rooms previously let at 15/ are now being let to new tenants at 35/-. Indeed £2 to £3 is often charged when there is no bathroom and only a shared outdoor lavatory.”

Some of the tragedies of over-crowding, lack of privacy; psychological maladjustments, marital problems – living with in-laws – for example, are reviewed, as are also the bureaucratic stupidities encountered by those with housing problems.

Part 2 contains “the Stevens Story”. This is the history of a family which, stricken by illness, is forced, by a combination of bureaucratic tyranny and official indifference, to part, to live in a shed and a motor car and to seek “refuge” in a nauseating L.C.C institute.

“It might reasonably be asked,” writes the author, “whether the Steven’s case was not a very extreme one and therefore quite untypical. Perhaps the simplest answer is that the authorities concerned did not, at any stage, regard it as such.”

In part 3 various suggestions are made as to what can be done to narrow the “gaps in the Welfare State”. In all, a valuable indictment of the contemporary British social scene.

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Last updated on 6 November 2015