What sort of welfare state does James Purnell want?
In his Times article (paywall) on Wednesday the former Work and Pensions Secretary spoke of his desire to “go back to Beveridge” and the principle that “everyone would put something in, and everyone would get something out”.
But then he comes out with this:
“I have never bought the argument that universal benefits bind the middle classes in. It feels too much like taxing with one hand to give back with another.”
But the case for all those middle class perks like child benefit (which are paid for through general taxation) is that they help to build that ethos of everyone putting in and everyone getting out. The argument is that if welfare is only used by the poor or unfortunate general public support for the system will dwindle.
Yet Purnell is not apparently totally opposed to universal benefits because one of his proposals is free universal childcare. I’m slightly perplexed as to why Purnell regards child benefit for all as the state “giving with one hand, while taking with the other” while the state paying for free childcare for those who can very well afford it is not.
Purnell also proposes a pension that’s “clearly higher for those who had paid in more than for those who hadn’t” and a higher rate of unemployment benefit for those who have been paying tax for longer. Here he sounds he’s advocating a kind of Lloyd George-style social insurance scheme.
It looks like Purnell wants to embrace Beveridge, repudiate him and also turn the clock back to the pre-Beveridge welfare era all at at once.
It seems to me that there’s three ways one can conceptually visualise the welfare state:
1) A universal Beveridge-style system where everyone puts in and everyone gets at least something out.
2) A social safety net that catches only those unfortunate enough to need help.
3) A contributory system in which the amount you get out in times of need reflects the amount you’ve paid in over the years.
Purnell’s vision seems to be a rather messy amalgam of all three.Tagged in: Beveridge, james purnell, social insurance, universal benefits, welfare state
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