G.D.H. Cole on the Demand for Welfare Reform and Its Use by the Tories

I found this piece by the radical Socialist G.D.H. Cole on the rising demand for the introduction of increased welfare provision in his 1942 book, Great Britain in the Post-War World (London: Victor Gollancz 1942).

Social reformers naturally echo this mood. The greater part of the progressive legislation of recent years has had to do with the removal or mitigation of the terrible insecurity which besets the lives of men; and programmes of progressive parties follow the same trend. Old age pensions, workmen’s pensions, health insurance, unemployment insurance, widow’s pensions, the assistance board, and many more specialised reforms are examples of the growth of what is sometimes called ‘eleemosynary’ legislation; and the demands for family allowances, guaranteed minimum wages, a national medical service, and a general tuning up of the existing social services figure largely in the reconstruction programmes of advanced parties, and seem likely to appeal to conservative opinion as well, as still the best way of foiling demands for more radical social change. it is widely felt that as long as capitalism can continue to make the concessions in the direction of social security, a large part of the electorate will rest content with the general structure of things as they are, and the more fundamental proposals for social change will meet with no great response among the main body of the people. (pp. 136-7).

Cole was writing while Beveridge was still working on his Report, and that passage shows the great demand there was from working people for what became the Welfare State. He’s also right in that the left wing of the Tory party did support it, although there was still opposition to it within Tory ranks. And Owen Jones made much the same point as Cole in his book Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, when he described how a Tory MP visiting Oxford confessed that his party hung on to power by conceding ‘just enough’ to satisfy the working class hunger for change.

Since then, the Tories have found, following Thatcher, that they were able to repeal all the reforms that have benefited the working class over the past half-century and more, and since Thatcher have been trying to privatise the health service. It stands in the way of corporate profit, and they have learned that they can roll back welfare provision if they maintain the illusion that they are somehow retaining or reforming it at the same time.

And so they’re destroying not just the health service and the welfare state, and plunging millions into poverty, in order to restore the corporate order and social hierarchy.

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