The Beveridge Society Inaugural Conference
24 November 2007, London
Title: What would William Beveridge do now?
Speech by Professor Peter Beresford OBE, Director, Centre for Citizen Participation, Brunel University UK.
First can I just say how pleased and honoured I feel to be here today both to celebrate and reflect on the work of William Beveridge. I was asked what would there be for him to do today; what giants still to be slain; what goals still to be achieved. What wonderful and enormous questions. I think I can only try and address them through reflecting on my own life and journey as a child of the welfare state of which I have always been proud to be a beneficiary. So let me take you as it were on my own journey of understanding, understanding welfare that includes growing up in a one-parent family, Oxford, London’s East End, Eastern Europe and the psychiatric system.
You can tell a lot about people I think from their youthful heroes and mine began with Isambard Kingdom Brunel an engineer of boundless vision and courage; went on to include T E Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia, committed to supporting the freedom of a people who learned that liberation is a personal as well as a political issue and became, in my mind, the first truly modern hero; then Mary Seacole, the pioneering black nurse and heroine of the Crimean War who overcame prejudice and discrimination to nurse our troops; Erich Maria Remarque who gave life to the voices and experience of a generation of young people whose lives were cut short by the Great War in his novel ‘All Quiet on the Western Front.’ And finally of course William Beveridge who gave expression to the hopes and aspirations of the next generation for a better society and a different world with the ending of the Second World War.
Not many people can say that the benign face of Lord Beveridge beamed down at them each night at dinner but as students we sat under his portrait at University College, Oxford where he was master from 1937 until he began his great work on welfare reform. I can trace an earlier link too with him – my mother grew up in London’s East End not far from where Beveridge had worked as a sub-warden at Toynbee Hall. Her parents came to this country as Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe – her mother never learnt to speak, read or write English. My mother talks of the out of work men who drunk would regularly beat their wives on a Saturday night; the prostitutes with faces destroyed by advanced syphilis she would see going into the London Hospital; the families who couldn’t afford the half crown it cost to call out the GP and the violence and racism she witnessed from Moseley’s fascist Blackshirts in the 1930s.
She grew up in one room and developed her own definition of poverty as not having shoes to wear. As a young woman she worked as a milliner; they were locked up in sweatshops until as late as 12 midnight if there was an order to complete; other times of course there was no work to be had. No wonder Beveridge’s plans for social renewal captured peoples’ imagination. I think it can be difficult now to appreciate the resonance his 300-page report had. It took the suffering of two world wars, inter-war depression, to create the impetus for the Beveridge Report and achieve Britain’s welfare state. We should remember that impetus came from the bottom up. The Beveridge Report and welfare reform have to be understood as the product of war and the most extreme suffering. The report gave people purpose, something to fight for instead of solely a cruel enemy to resist. Its wartime context has to be appreciated if we are to grasp Beveridge’s enormous meaning and its immense popularity. The Beveridge Report as people may know was published just after the first great military victory of the allies – El Alamein. It was a talking point in the trenches, on the airfields, at sea and in service education classes. It was a best seller with over 600,000 copies sold in a pre- paperback age. It even featured in the famous ‘Hitler’ radio programme, the comedy programme, with the comic Tommy Handley saying: “I’ve been up reading the first chapter of a book called ‘Gone with the Want’ by that stout fellow, Beveridge.” Would they celebrate a modern welfare report on high rated tv comedy shows today – I don’t think so!
After a generation of political consensus and support the principles of Beveridge embodied in the Welfare State were rejected in the 1980s by Prime Minister Mrs Thatcher and the political new right. She and her supporters believed in a very different approach to social policy and indeed public policy and politics overall. They did not believe in the value of large-scale state intervention. We’ve heard it from Iain Duncan Smith. They saw it as costly, wasteful and inefficient. They thought it discouraged the creation of wealth, was a drain on people who were working because of the taxes it imposed and it created dependency by discouraging people from paid employment. They believed that state intervention should be scaled down because the private market was much better at doing things. In future most people should either look after their own welfare or have welfare services provided much more by the market.
Whatever we may think of the political ideology or the practical politics and policies that followed from it, we should remember that Mrs Thatcher’s approach to welfare resonated strongly with many members of the public who knew first hand about poorly maintained council housing, bureaucratic and often poor quality public services, a lack of equity and equal access to social support and professionals they saw as often thinking that they knew best. But as we also know, the political rights approach to social policy had fundamental weaknesses of its own – it undermined wellbeing, was divisive and weakened the unity and fabric of society.
Beveridge was like all of us a creature of his time, constrained by his background and experience, shaped by his class, his gender, education and ethnicity. At the same time, he can be seen as part of wider understandings and movements in social reform – the Liberal Party, the university settlements, the London School of Economics and also of Fabianism. And Fabianism is central here – it was the strongest reforming impulse of 20th century social policy and underpinned the post war welfare state reforms. Beveridge’s commitment to social citizenship, to redistribution, to collective action were all shared with and can also be traced to Fabianism. But these as well as Fabianism’s commitment to gradual reform rather than revolutionary change are not the only characteristics which defined it. It has also been characterised by being very much top down in approach and to be based on the ideas, proposals and prescriptions of outside experts. Beveridge of course was just such an expert.
Max Beerbohm, the famous writer and cartoonist, drew a cartoon of Sydney and Beatrice Webb, founding parents of Fabianism, dragooning the population like toy soldiers in the playroom. This caught an essence of Fabianism and it’s p’raps not surprising that populist Thatcherism captured public dissatisfaction with this kind of paternalist approach to policy. Where perhaps with the very best of intentions, things were done to people, not with or by them.
I’ve sometimes thought that the way Beveridge framed his five giant evils gives another clue to the limits set to his understanding by Fabianism. He talked of disease, ignorance, squalor, idleness and want. Yes, disease and want quickly make sense – they are the clear consequences of material, physical and mental deprivation and disadvantages but squalor, idleness and ignorance, aren’t these focused more on, don’t they also point a finger at the people who are experiencing want and convert it into a personal characteristic or even personal responsibility of theirs. Yet as I know from my mother who had her own harsh experiences of want at this time, people strove desperately to maintain their respectability and to avoid being diminished or degraded by the lack of education, employment, a decent environment that were routine in their lives. This is how so many sought to resist the giant evils that they faced.
Here I think we come to the real big difference between Beveridge’s age and ours. Then policy makers wanted to do things for people – now, at last, there is recognition that policy should be there to help people take control of things for themselves. So then Beveridge’s thinking and writing perhaps missed out one key element – the people themselves. People who might be, or were, on the receiving end of policy proposals and provision have the active role that they might play. They were not included as actors in the process. I believe if he were a child of our times Beveridge would no longer leave out this key constituency from the process and purpose of welfare reform. The failure to involve and include society’s citizens would be another of his giant evils. Surely their inclusion and involvement would I’m sure be one of his key concerns and goals. And I say this because the determination, effectiveness and skill – let’s not forget the skill – with which Beveridge pursued welfare reform was a departure from much of the gradualism of Fabianism. In many ways, certainly for people like my mother, the welfare state his report gave life to was a revolution and a highly benevolent one.
I make these claims for him because I believe that Beveridge, for all the constraints operating on him, was essentially forward-looking. Many of the policy makers who subsequently sought to reverse his reforms have by contrast been essentially reactionary, wanting to go back to the market – go back to the market – for all its weaknesses, to an essentially moralising approach to the subject of social policy and to dismantle the structures that aspired to achieve inclusion, social citizenship and economic security through our lives. And that brings me to the great new idea of modern social policy. It’s the dawning that public/patient and service user involvement and engagement are crucial if policy and provision are to be owned and valued, adopted by people, achieve equity, are appropriate and cost effective. I’m not talking here about adding a consumerist gloss to policy or just putting in the word community but its democratisation. Nothing has convinced me more of this than my own first hand experience, my own personal journey and this has included eight years living on poverty level benefits and 12 years as a user of National Health Service psychiatric health services. Difficult experiences both, I have to say.
This led me to become involved in the new movements and new organisations of service users that developed from the 1980s of mental health service users, disabled people, older people, people with learning difficulties, living with HIV Aids and others. And here are to be found the new social policy pioneers, the new voluntarism – the new voluntarism – the new self-help and mutual aid, helping people to speak and act for themselves. The new experts; experts in their own direct experience – the 21st century equivalents of Beveridge and his peers.
Service users have set up themselves their own self-managed organisations, developed their own inclusive ways of working, together their own innovative services, developing new theories, new approaches to research and evaluation, new models of personal support. People themselves previously written off as dependent and incapable have spearheaded these reforms that are now being written into policy and legislation here. They point new ways forward to a truly welfare society instead of being based on reactionary nostalgia for pre-welfare state days. I can’t forget what it was like for people like my mother under the Poor Law. And they can also help us get a much better picture of where we need to go.
Thus, for instance, the Citizen’s Commission on the Future of the Welfare State was established and run by people with long-term experience as welfare state service users and drew evidence from many more. It’s key findings were much at variance with common assumptions about both welfare and the people who rely on it. So, welfare state service users central concern was predominantly to be independent; often they felt trapped in welfare while wanting to be active citizens. They saw employment as a right, not an obligation and highlighted the need for more good quality employment to get out of poverty. Their experience of using welfare state services was generally very negative; they felt excluded with little control over their lives – not something they wanted to do. They saw education and training as the key route out of poverty and welfare for themselves and their children. Most wanted more say in welfare and in welfare reform and saw among welfare’s problems its lack of accountability and responsiveness. They felt under attack from media and sometimes political stereotyping of them as dependent, as dishonest.
I’m not sure how far the evils that Beveridge identified have really been vanquished. I’m sure, sadly as we’ve been hearing, they’ve been joined by others which for me include the stigmatising and negative stereotyping of groups like lone parents, asylum seekers and people on benefits. The framing of human nature as essentially selfish rather than altruistic as Beveridge and his peers conceived of it. Enforced dependence of groups like disabled people and mental health service users because of an inflexible and sometimes truly discriminatory labour market. Overall, pressure to value money and profit above all else including each other. Discriminations which continue to exclude and subordinate people relating to gender, sexuality, disability, belief, race, nationality and age. I am particularly conscious of how older people in our society are still often treated, even by policy makers, as a burden rather than a gift.
We need to challenge these evils but perhaps what we should also be doing as we seek to keep Beveridge’s flame burning, is to frame our hopes in terms of goals and values. If we listen to what people themselves say, then I think these will include concerns with safeguarding peoples’ wellbeing, their physical and mental health. And looking at the whole nature of society in that quest; working to ensure security in peoples lives so often now missing. Not to do with family breakdown in the sense that Iain (Duncan Smith) talked about it but in terms of the truly destructive effects of the nature of much of our society now. To offer purpose, making it possible for everyone to contribute as well as to receive – so often that’s made difficult for people who are more marginalised – and to reach out to include everyone in society on equal terms, ensuring physical, communication and cultural access both to services and to shape services. Most of all, to see the whole person; to see us all, not just as a bag of rights and needs, important of course though these are, but holistically as spiritual, social, physical active beings who will always have our own part to play as well as sometimes needing others help and support. Just such a holistic support underpinned the modern hospice movement inspired from the grassroots and has made it one of our most valued health and social services. This is the road Beveridge leads us to. Thanks very much.
Thank you very much indeed for that introduction. As I was listening to the previous comments I must say I looked around the room and looked up at the names around here – I wonder how many people will have the chance to look at these names. These are remarkable giants of our history just laid out for us. People who have literally changed their society in one way or another either in mechanical ways, in physical ways or in other aspects, and in a sense, today’s speech is about how do you stand on the shoulder of giants (sic) and in many senses Sir William Beveridge in setting himself up to slay five giants has made himself a giant on whose shoulders we must stand and take it to the next phase.
So it’s a great opportunity to come and speak to you and I’m enormously pleased to be able to do so because it allows me to flesh out some of the arguments that we’ve been engaged in in the last few years since I set up the Centre for Social Justice. Although it goes back further to when I was Shadow Secretary of State for what was called in those days social security. I go through so many different name changes these days that you’ll forgive me if I don’t give you the latest incarnation because it seems names mean more these days sometimes than the substance of what they actually meant.
But anyway – when I looked at this subject I’d come to an interesting moment. I went back and re-read some of the stuff that Beveridge did a few years ago. And as you will all know, of course, you’ll tell yourselves this . . . Beveridge’s two reports: ‘Social Insurance and Allied Services’ and ‘Full Employment in a Free Society.’ Both written during the Second World War and then presented to the coalition government form the basis I suppose of the first peacetime government, that of Clement Attlee and his Labour Party in founding what we’ve come to know today I think as the welfare state. It’s interesting that they are not reports in one volume; they were not reports with titles with anything so grand as the welfare state and I want to come back to the reasons for that because I don’t think Beveridge ever quite saw it like that.
But the two documents – these two massive reports – which covered a very wide range of issues are regarded as foundational by many people of a post-war welfare state. But people do forget there was a third document produced which in itself is an interesting reaction by Beveridge and published in 1948 by Beveridge. It was entitled ‘Voluntary Action.’ It was written in reaction to the welfare legislation enacted at that stage by the Attlee government. And, indeed, I suppose from the then purely socialist point of view at that stage, voluntary action probably sounded a little bit like a heresy. As Robert Whelan writing about it put it later, Beveridge was not entirely happy with the legislation that he saw coming before Parliament. He thought its scope too sweeping and, in particular, he feared that by taking so much upon itself the state would leave no room for voluntary endeavour by different communities.
In reality, for him on this side of the issue, the battle was probably already lost by 1948. The speed, the urgency and the desire of the then government to get most of the other two documents through led them to ignore his document in 1948. But I think it is quite prescient in the words if any of you have the chance in going back to read it. Voluntary action reads more like a lament than a hymn to the virtues of civil society. In a totalitarian society, it says, all action outside the citizen’s home, and it may be much that goes on there, is directed or controlled by the state. By contrast, he wrote, bigger and abundance of voluntary action outside one’s home – individually and in association with other citizens – for bettering one’s own life and that of one’s fellows are the distinguishing marks of a free society. They have been outstanding features of British life.
That British society remained decidedly non-totalitarian when others turned that way was, he believed and I believe too, in no part due to that pluralism in welfare provision. Beveridge rightly feared the whole field of security against misfortune, one completely dominated and to become a voluntary and mutual aid, came divided between the state and private business conducted for gain, his concern and indeed, in British politics as a whole, the private sector would become to be seen as the only important alternative to the public sector and vice versa. The voluntary sector, he believed, and in a sense I believe has happened, was pushed to the margins of political discourse – a state of affairs that would persist for much of the remainder of the century.
In the 1940s, William Beveridge named five giants – want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness. In my opinion, contemporary Britain is now faced with a new set of giants – no less important but different in the sense that when we no sooner deal with one set then new ones spring up as a result of a failure on the margins. These are the five aspects of social breakdown that I chose to concentrate on in a recent independent policy review which I chaired and which made its final proposals in June of this year. They are essentially: family breakdown; educational failure; economic dependency and worthlessness; addictions – that’s alcohol and drug particularly although we did deal with gambling – and serious personal debt. This represents what I call a ‘cycle of deprivation’ – not one of them is all-important but all of them have a bearing on each other. Let me give you one small example – during the course of our work we looked at family breakdown because so much of what we were looking at in terms of the problems came back to broken homes but what we did discover quite categorically was that, without realising it – and I hadn’t realised it and I don’t think most of the people whose family life break up realise it – that debt is the single biggest cause of family breakdown and we have the highest level of personal debt in the United Kingdom. Debt is one of the things that families cannot talk about and don’t talk about and, in fact, is the one subject above all other subjects that they find least palatable to discuss hence the pressure to move to other areas.
There are obvious parallels between ignorance and idleness in Beveridge’s day and the educational failure and widespread dependency that stubbornly now persists in our own. Very briefly, I will identify some of the insights we gained on the new five giants and outline proposals that we advanced to tackle them.
Now, I have a warning – there are 191 proposals in our document that I have here. And I think you need to relax as I have no intention of going through them all. I am just going to give you a flavour of some of it otherwise we’ll be here for the next two hours. And I, and neither you, would wish that. So let’s start first of all with family breakdown. What we discovered, looking across the rest of Europe, was that Britain has the highest levels of family breakdown and lone parenting against pretty much all other countries of Europe. It seems like a peculiar problem to us. It’s not to say that other countries don’t have issues and problems with this; it’s not to say that other countries don’t have some significant numbers of lone parents but one of the things we found when we looked at it is that those sort of family relationships stabilised much more and became two coupled relationships to a much higher degree than ever happens in the UK.
‘Breakdown Britain’ has been central in making the case for all of us to put as one of our prime concerns, the rebuilding of family; putting it at the heart of an effective poverty fighting campaign and a strategy. David Cameron spoke to me personally and accepted a number of recommendations. He hasn’t as yet accepted all of them and, having sent the report to Gordon Brown, I have yet to hear from him but no doubt when we look through it we will find that a number of those have already been implemented but how much he will accept, I don’t know. But he has talked about rewarding the stability of family life; finding ways of taking away the disincentives for people to move to that. One of the issues I can illustrate this with, and Frank Field has talked about it before, is this problem of a couple penalty within the tax credit area where a couple on benefits trying to get into work as a household has to work, is a significantly longer time than a lone parent and one of the reasons why the IFS was worried about a set of figures was that they had found that there were more, about a quarter of a million more, lone parents claiming benefits than lone parents actually existing in the UK. They put this down to, and I think there is a fairly obvious correlation here that the idea of getting more money if you are in one particular lifestyle and not the other is, for fragile lifestyles, a major attraction. And in fact we now have another term for this called the ‘living together apart’ which is all about this need to declare yourself as something which you are not. So we put forward a number of proposals – not just about tax and benefits as has been talked about, but also things such as improving the access to real relationship education and support. We found when we looked at some of the voluntary sector engaged in this area that they had remarkable success rates in re-stabilising relationships and getting to understand what their particular problems were and not breaking up as had been expected previously. Set against the national trend it was quite a significant change. So some of the areas we talked about were successive governments making available greater money for this sort of area as a way of saving on the cost of family breakdown which is over £20 billion a year to the taxpayer. But not only just that, but also one of the recognitions of people who seek and head towards marriage at this stage have some really quite intriguing ideas about what is about to happen to them which often bear no relation to the likelihood of their life thereafter. Too many families, for example, start their married life in debt. We now know the average cost of a wedding, average cost of a wedding in Britain today, is some £20,000. Now, as many families engaging in that simply can’t afford to pay that money – they don’t have that sort of saving – then you’ll find the young couple who are engaged in quite significant debt. As I just said to you earlier on, debt is one of the biggest causes of family breakdown. So they start in one of the most likely and significant areas that is going to cause them greatest damage in their family life before they’ve even tied the knot. So lots of issues like that – how do we get even couples to stabilise and what is the relationship between them and their children.
We found, intriguingly, that co-habiting couples have a very high rate of break up once once a child arrives. Something like half of all co-habiting couples will have broken by the time their child is five. The figure for a married couple is one in 12 which is a significant difference even with high levels of divorce. All of these and recommendations are in there and we believe it’s critical that we start to take and make stability in family life a critical element of any attack on poverty.
Educational failure is the second modern giant. Our first report in ‘Breakdown Britain,’ which came before this, showed that 25 per cent, only 25 per cent, of Britain’s poorest children are getting five good GCSEs. Furthermore, what we looked at and found quite interesting was that for too long the debate has centred only around pure ethnicity as though there was some particular problem, particularly for Afro Caribbean boys, but in other words there was a lazy media-take on a lot of this and no-one had really looked at this properly. Mostly because I suppose ethnically white boys are lifted quite high by a higher number of children in middle class levels of income. So we stripped all of those out and we looked at ethnically white boys just to see what happened. And we found that they were actually the lowest achieving group in education. The figures we had were something like 17 per cent. They may have moved up about a per cent since then but only 17 per cent achieved five ‘A-C’ GCSEs in school. And when you get to care, children in care, I think the figure is something like 6 per cent achieve 5 ‘A-C.’ So we have a real problem in our areas and when we looked at all of these groups we looked at those that were in receipt of free school meals and what was fascinating about those in receipt of free school meals was that it at least got everybody from roughly the same community because if you are in receipt of a free school meal you are more likely to be living in similar areas and similar states.
But at the other end of the spectrum, Hindu boys and ethnically Chinese children outscored everybody – I think ethnically Chinese were something like 69 per cent achieved five ‘A-C’s from the same area and about 54/55 per cent of Hindu boys achieved five ‘A-C’s. I say boys because these were a lower performing group and we used them as a benchmark. But to give you some indication – it’s not just the school. Something has happened beyond the school. Culturally in terms of the value for education going missing that allows children to come to school with any sort of support. And if these children are in similar areas and similar incomes then this disparity has to be explained beyond the school gates regardless of whether the school is good or bad there are problems which we pointed to in the report.
So we wanted to talk about how to help improve that. We talked about increasing the supply of good school places; we linked this back to stability and families and help families in the early years. We propose to allow parent groups and charities to establish what we call ‘Pioneer Schools,’ state-funded but not necessarily state-controlled.
What is a ‘Pioneer School?’ One of the concerns we had was that in all the talk about academies and everyone saying they’re such a good idea and I don’t doubt that they are, in the longer term, a good idea – they take an inordinately long time to set up. If you are a child, or parents of children in a difficult area, nothing but difficult schools that are having a really tough time and not succeeding and have been failing for some time then your choices are absolutely zero, really. Because unlike many of your middle class counterparts who may sell their house, move out, move on and are mobile, will go somewhere where a good school exists, you will not really have that sort of choice. So mobility is not an aspect that you can use to improve the quality of your children’s life. So in allowing us to say well let’s speed this up because it can take years and takes up to a quarter of a million pounds to set up an academy, let’s find an interim way to get this moving far faster so we can focus on academic record rather than just the buildings and the facilities and get this improvement in education going. We’ve seen it work in countries as far away as Sweden to the United States in the model that we are proposing drew on some of that experience where we’ve seen a great level of success in this.
Moving on a bit to economic dependency. We showed here that despite the fact we’ve had this remarkable growing economy now for a number of years across a couple of governments, and although we declare reasonably low levels of unemployment there is a persistent level of economic inactivity in the UK which stubbornly resists almost any attempt to move it. Over five million people of working age are languishing today on some form of out of work benefit. It’s not all incapacity benefit, although that is a significant chunk, it’s a series of other benefits as well. And little expectation is placed upon them at any stage. In fact, I was staggered when John Hutton said that if you had been on incapacity benefit for two years you were more likely to die than to find a job. This sort of aspect of lost lives and a lost sense of purpose that damages people not only economically but also in a sense intellectually because work is a great way of getting people stimulated and moving and setting them out as successes and helping them stabilise their own family lives. Worthlessness is one of the great causes of family breakdown. So some 15 per cent of our working age population is therefore parked without much obligation or expectation or support for them. And to begin reversing this dependency we made a number of proposals and we’re looking at further ones now because we’re looking at benefits and benefits reform that will come through in the Spring of next year. But we proposed personalised programmes to help the unemployed get and keep jobs and help enforce them with conditions attached to benefits about seeking work. I don’t see why we shouldn’t expect everybody in Britain to be seeking work. The question is what kind of work can you do. Let me give you an example – the problem arises when governments get obsessed as governments get obsessed about meeting targets. A target is how many people go into work. What we rarely read about is how many people actually stayed in work because they were capable of that work and didn’t rotate out. A good example I think is the numbers of those going through to work of the young unemployed – something like 20 per cent of all of them are in work 13 weeks later. Which means 80 per cent crashed out in that period most of them probably in the first four to five weeks; significantly so with lone parents. When you look at a group like ‘Tomorrow’s People,’ which is a voluntary sector group, I say voluntary sector, there is a national element in it, but this is an organisation that looks after some of the most difficult people to get into work. But places them in work and has a phenomenal success rate, something in the order of 70-75 per cent of the people they place in work are still in work a year later. Why so different from government? Because they are much more personal than government; they mentor people back into work; they have targets set for themselves that they’re in work a month later, two months later, three months later. They make sure if there are any problems the company is able to ring that mentor for those people and make sure that matter is discussed and supported and worked through with the mentor so that some of these difficulties that are invariably because you have been out of work for a long time can be worked through rather than the company having to sack somebody because they simply didn’t meet immediate expectations. So there is a lot more that can be done and not necessarily by government agencies. A huge involvement of both the private and voluntary sector here were part of our solution.
We looked at addiction, as I said earlier on, particularly drug and alcohol. We found that when it came to illegal drugs at least 360,000 Britons are addicted to some form of Class A drug and that half of all 14 to 15 year olds were busy binge drinking on a regular basis. In fact, it’s even lower than that. We found that something like five per cent of those are between 10 and 12 were binge drinking and admitted to binge drinking in our polling data at least once a month. And we know that if you’re drinking at that level you’re almost certain to be on to illegal drugs before you’re 16 or 17. The connection between drink and drugs after you reach adulthood is not as clear or as explicit but it’s certainly very clear for young children. And alcohol consumption here in Britain is historically high. In fact it’s higher than it’s been at any time I think since the turn of the early part of the 20th century/late 19th century. To tackle this epidemic we want to persuade the party to produce significant balancing in treatment for all addicts, drug addicts as well. We think one of the big problems when it comes to illegal drugs is the obsession with substitute prescribing as opposed to much more work done to get people from that process into abstinance and out of their addictions. We are peculiar in this country in having one of the most haphazard and chaotic drug systems in Europe. We visited places like Holland and Sweden and the United States and took evidence from various countries. What they all said when they talked to us about our policy was that they thought we were a chaotic mess when it came to drugs and alcohol. And I have to say, I rather agree with them. Places like Sweden don’t have classifications for drugs they just have all simple illegal drugs and you have very clear penalties that they have for rehabilitation pathways parked alongside every single detention or possession or use of drugs and it is mandatory and it works. In Holland, they have a third the number of addicts that we do. Please don’t fool yourselves that Holland is some great liberal utopia when it comes to this. Yes, they have done these cafes for cannabis – an experiment which they now accept and admit is not succeeding. But what they have is a very strong and clear set of policies about what happens to you if you use drugs but alongside that this very, very good and excellent programme on rehabilitation. So we need to learn more by what others are doing and not assume somehow that we can keep on trying to reinvent it here because certainly we are, when it comes to drugs and alcohol abuse, but certainly with drug addiction now, one of the worst countries in Europe.
The final modern giant we looked at was serious personal debt which I spoke about earlier and I need no more about that except that we are record levels of that with some £1.3 trillion owed in debt. But we also looked at the other aspect of this which was how do you strengthen the civil and voluntary sector to go alongside the work that government has to do and to reinvigorate it? Beveridge spoke about that endlessly and it’s a pity that his work in ’48 wasn’t looked at properly and implemented because I think we would be in a stronger state now if the voluntary sector itself was stronger, particularly the small and community sector. Within our welfare society all forms of need I found are being overcome at some point in an exemplary way by some of these small community and voluntary sector groups. And we find that many of them are fearful of government; fearful of being taken over; fearful of being re-structured; fearful of being directed in a way that would break their community links. We find also that too large a share of statutory funding for charities is going to the biggest voluntary organisations delivering them major contracts. The problem for the smaller ones is they find they scratch around for this money and they get very little. It makes it very difficult for them in any shape or form to commit to the programmes they need to use. So we have put into our programme a huge uplift in assistance and support and also new ways to encourage people to support local voluntary and community groups who in many cases are the awkward squad who find the solutions that some of the government and bigger charities are fearful of trying.
So, to conclude. A key challenge for government ahead in seeking to topple the five giants of today is to find ways of releasing the potential of free citizens in the voluntary sector to fulfil the tasks for themselves. Government should not obstruct citizens or worse still try to replace them. Neither should it be indifferent to their needs. Good government should focus on helping free people to achieve their goals using every device possible.
In the 1970s government attempted to expand state owned industries rather than support private businesses. Today the welfare state has grown massively to compensate for the weaknesses of society’s free institutions. And there is a parallel between the way in which we need to work. An ever expanding state crowds out the people and undermines the institutions that generate the wealth and values upon which all of our lives depends. The primary purpose of public policy therefore should be the renewal of that welfare society alongside the welfare state; a re-engagement and a ridding ourselves of the obsession that all welfare begins and ends in the welfare state. It doesn’t. Most of it begins and continues in a thing called the welfare society. Thank you very much indeed.