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Nigel Harris

What does welfare mean?

(Autumn 1961)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.6, Autumn 1961, pp.32.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Family Needs and the Social Services
Political and Economic Planning
Allen and Unwin, 30s.

This is an excellent book as far as it goes. PEP in 1957 set out to execute a survey in Greater London and later Northampton of families with dependent children, to determine in detail what the impact of welfare services were. Sadly, the study in its terms does not deal with the old age pensioners, and on the housing question is already well out of date (not to mention the new health charges).

However, the results are still interesting, and show the Health Service is by far the most important factor in the whole ‘welfare state’. On the other hand, housing is the great failure – a third of the people interviewed had a housing problem of some kind, and a quarter of the respondents had a very serious problem. Health, operated by that minor if ferocious pressure group, the doctors, was obviously more easy to manipulate than the much more important section of the ruling class scrambling for building materials. The sample used was a representative one, so providing a fairly reliable cross-section of the population, but necessarily under-playing the plight of the ‘under-privileged’ (a grotesque phrase). One third of the families owned their own homes, one per cent were ‘problem families’, 12% had taken National Assistance at some time or other.

The main conclusion from the survey stands out clearly – welfare legislation has at no time been remotely a causative factor in present prosperity: at best it was a pleasant but little gift in hard times, at worst it was a constant drag to pay in good times. Prosperity has come with regular and high-wage employment: and such has been the relative income rise, welfare is, for the majority, not very important and as a consequence, can be eroded by the Conservatives without major protest. For the margin at the bottom, it is quite important although rarely sufficient. As a catalogue of realism from the receiving end, PEP have done an excellent job.

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