Welfare has been given two distinct meanings in Britain. As distinct as a tennis ball is from a graduation ball. One concerns the wellbeing of an individual and the other is about a stigmatised hand out to the poor. This political occupation of language is where the right excels. We have to break out of this political frame if we are to have a chance of creating a society beyond the limitations set by the new right.
The Common Weal approach to welfare is a return to the concept of social security. It sets up our view of a society of individuals free from anxiety against a system of welfare that seeks to keep the population in a state of low level fear.
To be secure people have to be sure that they won’t be left destitute if something goes wrong. They should have a secure home, meaningful occupation and a reasonable income.
The publication ‘In Place of Anxiety : Social Security for the Common Weal’ explains that an industrial policy that raises employment levels, skills and wage could take us out of a low wage economy and ensure tax revenues are enough to support the disabled and carers. It shows with a proper house building program and decent regulation as has happened in Germany ,we could hold house prices and therefore rents down and ensure homes are not products but places people build lives, families and communities from. Most importantly it reiterates the case for a Citizens Income as a basic level of payment for every single person from birth to death varying at different life points. This is cheaper to run than current ‘situation tested’ systems and fundamentally changes the individual’s relationship with the state, each other and with capital. It also allows proper integration of the tax and benefit system so that those with enough, pay back the citizens income through their tax code.
There are potentially two views of a successful society. The first is a society that strives on the back of fear. It is built upon the idea that the population should be so afraid of the stigma of failure and the material reality of poverty that comes from not being able to work or find work that they are motivated to produce and grow that economy or else sink. Its politics are fear-based, setting one section of the population against another. These are all elements that thrive in an atmosphere of anxiety.
The second is one that is built upon humanity’s innate desire to create, communicate and be social. Where our Common Weal is used to give everyone a guaranteed a basic starting platform from which to build a good life and a good society. Creativity, ambition for something better and hope drive productivity and the creation of community. Cooperation and mutual support build the economy. Its politics seek unity and the power of a collective force. These are all things that thrive in an atmosphere of security.