The Socialist, Labour Party Origins of the NHS and Welfare State

It seems that the Tory party is once again trying to lay some kind of claim to the NHS, even as they destroy it. At the Tory party conference last week I seem to recall one of the speakers claiming that the Tories could be relied on to keep it in budget and governed according to sound financial management.

Which must be why so many NHS Trusts are saying they’re seriously underfunded and in debt.

We’ve heard this nonsense before. A few years ago, former Health Secretary and maliciously incompetent clown, Jeremy Hunt, claimed that the NHS was a Tory invention. It wasn’t. The modern welfare state was created by the Atlee government under the direction of the great Nye Bevan. One right-wing commenter came on this blog to try to argue that the NHS wasn’t the creation of the Labour party, as it was based on the Beveridge Report. Beveridge was a Liberal, who based his report on consultation with a number of sources inside the civil service. But the ultimate origin of the NHS actuall predates the Report. In the 1930s the Socialist Medical Society had also issued demands for the creation of a National Health Service, and the Labour Party had included it in their manifestos. And the ultimate origin of the NHS goes back to the Webbs and their Minority Report on the Poor Law of 1909.

I found a couple of quotes making the socialist origins of the NHS and welfare state very clear in the booklet 100 Years of Fabian Socialism 1884-1984, edited by Deirdre Terrins and Phillip Whitehead (London: Fabian Society 1984).

With Lloyd George and Beverdge, Beatrice and Sidney Webb can just be said to be the founders ofthe modern Welfare State. In particular, Beatrice’s 1909 Minority Report to the Royal Commission on the Poor Law, and the Webbs’ subsequent Prevention of Destitution campaign, laid down a blueprint for the development of welfare programmes to cater for the disadvantaged. (p.7)

Discussing the activities of the Fabian Society during the War, the book states

At home the essays Social Security, edited by William Robson, paved the way for the Beveridge Report. This book, and five others, with a further nineteen research pamphlets, comprised the Fabian war effort. It was condensed in the 1945 Manifesto Let Us Face the Future, written by the Fabian Michael Young, and successful as no manifesto has ever been before or since. (p.17).

As for the Tories, they’ve been repeating the lie that only they, not Labour, offer the sound financial management required to keep the NHS afloat since the 1980s, if not before. I can remember the Torygraph declaring c. 1987 that while Labour had founded the NHS, only the Tories’ good financial management could be relied upon to maintain it. To support this assertion, they stated that when the Italians had set up their version of the NHS in the 1970s it had gone bust within a week.

I really don’t know anything about the Italians’ attempts to set up a system of state medicine, and so can’t comment on that part of the Torygraph’s claim. But the rest of it – that it’s the Tories prudent financial management that has kept the NHS solvent, is nonsense. Dangerous, pernicious nonsense.

And the Torygraph was aware of it at the time, which is why it said it. Thanks to Maggie Thatcher’s management, the NHS was in crisis, with lengthening waiting lists, the postponement of operations and the closure of hospital wards. Maggie, despite her loud denials and denunciations of the Labour party for claiming otherwise, had planned to privatise the NHS. She was stopped because of a full scale Cabinet revolt and the fact that her private secretary, Patrick Jenkin, had been to America and seen for himself just how dreadful the American healthcare system was, funded by private health insurance. Thatcher thus rowed back, and resorted instead to trying to get a certain percentage of the British population to take out private health insurance instead.

The party then went ahead with a programme of piecemeal NHS privatisation through the Private Finance Initiative, which was picked up and expanded by Blair and New Labour when they came to power in 1997. And after Labour lost the 2010 election, the programme has been resumed and expanded in turn by the Tories under Cameron and Tweezer, and their Health Secretaries Andrew Lansley, Jeremy Hunt and their successors.

However, under New Labour the NHS was kept in the black, so any claims that Labour was responsible for overspending or bankruptcy there is a lie. And even in the 1970s the compilers of a report into the NHS stated that further NHS expenditure would easily be met through natural increases in government funding.

Ultimately, the Welfare State and the NHS have been largely the creation of Socialists and the Labour party. The Conservative commitment to state medical care has, by contrast, always been tenuous. In the 1950s the Tory Right revolted and wanted to privatise the new NHS, claiming that it was financially unsupportable. Just as the Tories now claim that it would not be properly financially supported by the Labour party. Even though the Tories themselves have partially privatised it and driven it into debt.

The only solution is for the NHS to be returned to its Socialist origins and be renationalised. Which is what Corbyn promises, and one of the reasons the Tories, New Labour and the media are so scared of him. And why we need Corbyn, and a proper, traditional, Socialist Labour party in government.

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2 Responses to “The Socialist, Labour Party Origins of the NHS and Welfare State”

  1. A6er Says:

    Reblogged this on Britain Isn't Eating!.

  2. Christine Bergin Says:

    The ‘Poor Laws’ of the early1600 happened because the closure of the monastery’s and their facilities for the care of the old, ill, and destitute left a lot of people starving and dying in the street. Not a pretty sight so the local town and village leaders made it ‘someones’ responsibility to give aid and shelter. It was not generous or lavish by any means and there were many abuses but as society changed and became more industrial than agricultural, so the ‘poor laws’ changed and tried to adapt to fulfill the need. with the first work houses also came the first hospitals. These are the roots that our welfare state grew from.

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