Posts Tagged ‘David Willetts’

Tory MP David Willetts’ Defence of the Welfare State

February 13, 2016

The Tory MP, David Willetts, a member of the ‘One Nation’ group within the party, which had been set up to reconcile the Conservatives with the NHS, wrote a defence of the welfare state in his 1992 book, Modern Conservatism. This is surprising, not only because Willetts was a Tory, but also because he was Thatcher’s former adviser on social security. He wrote

Nobody is very clear why a Conservative should support a welfare state. It seems to fit in with the highmindedness of the Liberals and the egalitarianism of the Labour party. But what is conservative about it? If Conservatives do support it, is this mere political expediency? …

Why have a welfare state: efficiency and community
The are two types of argument for a welfare state. Neither is exclusively conservative, but they both tie in closely with two crucial elements of conservative philosophy – the belief in markets and the commitment to community.

The market argument for welfare state is that it contributes to the successful working of a capitalist economy … [for instance] the development of unemployment benefit and retirement pensions contributes to economic efficiency by making it easier for firms to shed labour and to recruit new workers from a pool. Health care and education both raise the quality of a nation’s ‘human capital’ …

We may have explained the need for some of the fundamental services of a welfare state, but we still need to show why the state has such a big role in financing and organising them. This is where the next stage of the efficiency argument comes in. If there are voluntary, private schemes they encounter the problem of adverse selection – the tendency to get the bad risks … Commercial insurers are trying to do the very opposite and only accept what they would regard as the good risks. The logic of this drives the government to intervene and require everyone to take out insurance at the same premium. At this point we … have, in effect, invented state-run national insurance…

The efficiency argument [can] be stated in an even more rarefied form: it is difficult for a homeless family to be fit, or for a homeless child to do well at school, and this, in the long run, is an economic cost – which makes it rational for us to step in.

Rather than develop even more ingenious economic arguments for the welfare state, there comes a point when we really have to confront a simple moral obligation towards fellow members of our community. Regardless of whether people in need have been reckless or feckless or unlucky and unfortunate there comes a point when the exact explanation of how they became destitute ceases to matter. They have a claim on us simply by virtue of being compatriots. The welfare state is an expression of solidarity with our fellow citizens.

The market and community arguments together explain the remarkable consensus in most advanced Western nations that some sort of welfare state is both necessary and desirable. They explain why a Conservative can support the welfare state and also provide grounds for criticising particular institutional arrangements if they are not living up to those principles…

Mutual Insurance
It is when one turns to the role of the welfare state in redistributing resources that political differences emerge. For socialists the welfare state is perhaps the most powerful tool available to achieve their objective of equality … And because many people think this must be the rationale for the welfare state, they assume that anti-egalitarian conservatives must also be anti-welfare state.

There is a different view of the working of a welfare state. For the conservative it is an enormous mutual insurance scheme, covering us against ill-health, unemployment and loss of earning power in old age… We think of the welfare state as redistributing resources to others. But if, instead, we think of our own relationship to the welfare state during our lives, it is clear that what it really does is to reallocate those resources through the different stages of the life cycle. In this way resources are taken from us when we are working, and we are given command over resources when we are being educated, or unemployed, or sick or retired.

In Margaret Jones and Rodney Lowe, From Beveridge to Blair: The First Fifty Years of Britain’s Welfare State 1948-98 (Manchester: Manchester University Press 2002).

Willetts is right about one of the best arguments for the welfare state being the moral duty towards one’s fellow citizens. It’s one of the major distinctions between British and Continental Socialism, and particularly between the Labour and Communist parties. Lenin and the Soviet Communists tended to sneer at the moral arguments for socialism and their adherents. Economic and sociological arguments, such as those marshalled by Fabians like Sidney and Beatrice Webb, are important but ultimately not as persuasive the moral imperative to make sure the poorest and weakest in society are properly protected and receive their due share.

Willett’s statement that the welfare state allows firms to get rid of staff easier, and frees up the labour market, is to my mind repulsive, but it might convince some businesspeople of the value of the welfare state as a worthwhile social investment.

Willetts wrote this nearly a quarter of century ago, however, and despite his arguments successive right-wing administrations are busy destroying the welfare state. This was certainly the case under Thatcher, and it’s continued under Major, Bliar and New Labour, and the current Tory administration. Jeremy Hunt and the other Tories wish to privatise the NHS by stealth, and thanks to aIDS nearly 590 disabled people have died of starvation or by their own hand, and 239,000 suffered severe mental illness.

Yet the Tories continue to maintain the sham illusion that somehow they are the party of the poor, and support the welfare state.

This is a lie. And any decent people in the Tories, who genuinely believe in the welfare state have two options. They should either stand up to Cameron and force him and his vile crew of old Etonian bruisers and butchers out, and instead elect a leadership that would have horrified Maggie by being wringing ‘wet’ in mould of Harold MacMillan and Rab Butler; or they should leave. Preferably they should also either join or vote for one of the opposition parties.

If they are genuinely supporters of the welfare state, then they must realise that they have absolutely no place in Cameron’s Tory party. Cameron’s a bog-standard Neoliberal with Hayek’s contempt for the poor. And anyone genuinely on the side of the poor, the sick and disabled should want to get rid of him and his clique.

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Private Eye on Think Tanks Funding Political Conferences

February 16, 2015

One of the key causes in the corruption of British politics has been the way the different political parties are being lobbied and funded by the same, almost exclusively right-wing think tanks. These organisations provide the parties with advisors and sponsor debates and events at the various political conferences. As a result, while the parties themselves have changed, the Thatcherite policies they have pursued have remained unchallenged. Not only is this influence corrupt in itself, but it’s also led to the British voting public becoming alienated and disenfranchised. They feel with some justification, that there is little difference between the parties, and that they are being sidelined and ignored in favour of big business.

Private Eye published a piece on this issue in their edition of 21st September – 4th October 2012, listing the various think tanks and describing their links to various politicians and ministers.

Conference Callers

Party members may see conference season as their chance to be heard, but judging by the brochures put out by think tanks, the grassroots will have a job making it past better-funded rivals from the business lobby.

Over the summer, the Eye acquired prospectuses from several think tanks looking to recruit sponsors for debates at the forthcoming Tory, Lib Dem and Labour conferences.

Reform, a think tank with Tory links, tells potential sponsors it can set up “successful events attended by ministers and shadow ministers, special advisors, MPs, MEPs and council leaders”, among them minister for welfare reform Lord Freud, housing minister Mark Prisk, employment minister Mark Hoban and the Foreign Office’s Henry Bellingham.

Lest anyone mistake the purpose, any “partner organisation” – ie company willing to pay for access – can use roundtable events or dinners with “around 20 high-level participants” to put their own “insights into the relevant policy debate at the beginning of the meeting”.

Not to be outdone, ResPublica, run by David Cameron’s “Red Tory” guru Phillip Blond, offers potential “partners” a chance for “intimate discussion over diner with select stakeholders and policymakers”, plus the opportunity to “contribute” to the choice of subject and speaker for meetings with ministers.

Meanwhile the Social Market Foundation (SMF) is touting “an excellent standard of service to our sponsors”, including the chance to “shape the key questions for debate” and “input into the speaker line-up”, with top totty on offer to include Lord Freud (again), Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin, prisons and probation minister Crispin Blunt, universities minister David Willetts and chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander.

Trendy think tank Demos urges companies to cough up for events and roundtables potentially hosted by the prime minister or chancellor, with sponsors getting the chance for “conversations that link their policy agenda to contemporary political issues”. And Policy Exchange, the Cameroonian think tank, trumpets its “competitive sponsorship package”: as well as potential access to ministers, a few broad themes scheduled for debate will be honed after … conversations with sponsors.

Think tanks have tax-free charitable status based on their lofty aims to improve public policy. How does offering commercial interests the chance to pitch ideas to ministers over dinner fit that mission?

Clearly, it doesn’t. If politics in Britain is to be improved, and its people to be given a genuine choice between the parties, and have a real voice in how their country is governed, the corporatists think tanks need to be thrown out. Removing their charitable status, except for those rare occasions where they might, actually, represent charities, would be a start.

Private Eye on Abuse and Neglect at Beech House Private Care Home

July 22, 2013

After covering several stories of abuse and neglect at private care homes, Private Eye ran another story about the poor care given to adults suffering from learning difficulties and ‘challenging behaviour’ at the private Beech House hospital in Newmarket in their 24th August -6th September 2012 edition. Here it is.

‘Care Homes

A Private Concern

More evidence emerges that big business and private-equity firms are among the worst offenders when it comes to running poor care homes.

Last month Eye 1319 revealed how the ever-expanding Priory Group and Craegmoor-owned by the American private-equity firm Advent International – were the owners of two of the 18 homes and hospitals found to be failing to protect its young disabled residents during Care Quality Commission inspections.

Another found by the care watchdog to have “major concerns” was Beech House in Newmarket, an independent hospital that houses 30 adults with learning difficulties and challenging behaviour. Inspectors found residents were “being restrained unnecessarily ” by staff who were “authoritarian” and “very controlling”. All external and internal doors were locked, even though this was a “low secure hospital”.

Issuing enforcement notices against the hospital, inspectors concluded that patients were “not being protected from abuse, or the risk of abuse”.

Beech House is part of the Four Seasons group, which also owns six homes listed as “moderate concern” by the inspectors. Four Seasons has been bought and sold by private-equity firms for years: Terra Firma, the private-equity outfit run by Guy Hands, was the latest to buy it, for £800m in April.

Another of the 18 presenting “major concerns” was Elmsmead in Taunton, a home for a dozen young adults with learning difficulties, where inspectors found poor care planning and a “strong small of urine” in the lounge, suggesting poor continence care. Elmstead is part of the Voyage Care chaine of homes, which also runs the Rhodelands home in Devon, where inspectors recorded “moderate” concerns-and Voyage Care is owned by private-equity firm HG Capital.

Overall in its inspection of 150 institutions, the CQC found that privately owned “independent” homes were twice as likely to fail at both care and safeguarding as those run by the NHS. Eye readers know well the debacle surrounding the collapse of Southern Cross (private-equity owner, Blackstone), the largest provider of care for the elderly – much of it poor.

But the government remains ideologically wedded to greater private investment in health and social care from its business mates and associates. Guy Hands is a close friend of William Hague, and Ian Armitage, chair of HG Capital, gave £30,500 to David Willetts “research fund” and the Tory party between 2007 and 2010.

* Now taxpayers’ money is also being handed over to private enterprise from the care watchdog itself. For the past two years the CQC has been handing monthly sums, in the region of £500,000 or above, to Carlisle Managed Solutions, for staff and services to just about every division of the commission, from registration to regulation, from finance to intelligence – and even to the chair and chief executive’s office. So far Carlisle Managed Solutions has pocketed some £13.66m. It just happened to be owned by Impellam, the so-called global “human capital services company”-owned by the family trust of none other than tax-haven enthusiast and Tory party benefactor Lord Ashcroft.’

So there it is in black and white: privately run hospitals are more inefficient, and offer worse care than the NHS. But thanks to their connections to Tory leaders like Hague and Ashcroft, they’re set to be give more of the NHS.