John O’Donnell, Member of Glasgow Cathcart CLP says now is the time to “bin universalism”
I have read, watched and listened to the reaction of left wing commentators to Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls’ announcement that he would remove the winter fuel allowance from wealthy pensioners in a bid to save £100 million.
It would appear that this has ruffled the feathers of the left who consider universalism as a sacred cow that simply cannot be touched. They consider it to be unarguable and something that would end civilisation as it stands. Universality in the 1945-1951 government might have been admirable whilst fighting the big five (Disease, Ignorance, Want, Idleness and Squalor) and it has been a system adopted and defended by successive governments since then, both Conservative and Labour. We live in drastically different times, however, both politically and economically.
We spent in 2011-2012 on benefits approximately £160 billion from a budget of approximately £700 billion (I apologise but cannot find the exact figures for 2012-2013). This represents just under 25% of government spending. This is an outrageous amount and percentage and is completely unsustainable.
In my professional life I work as a Social Worker. I see the result of massive cuts in public spending, the impact of which, on the most vulnerable in society, is disproportionately staggering. As such, I am no friend of the government. But I also see people receiving state benefits who, financially, do no need them and who use them as additional pocket money for whatever they decide to spend their pocket money on.
A universal state pension may have been appropriate in the latter half of the twentieth century, indeed it was thought that the money paid in was invested for retirement, but we now know that contributions paid in go to pay the benefits of people now. The question I want to ask is: why should the state be paying a pension at all? Now there will always be people who require to be supported and any decent society worth its salt will always do so. Indeed Tony Blair often used the phrase ‘work for those who can and security for those who cannot’. I will always defend that, but why should a person who has the opportunity to plan ahead for 30 or 40 years, expect to rely on the government for a weekly pension? I spoke to someone recently who is in a steady job and who refuses to join an occupational pension scheme on the basis that the state will pay a pension upon retirement, whose rent and Council Tax will be covered and so there is no need to worry as the tab will be picked up by others. This is wrong on many levels.
Today on Radio Scotland a left wing contributor said that people who pay into the system need to know that they will get something out of it. I kept asking why? It seems there are some who feel that rights are stronger than responsibilities and I cannot and will not buy into this. It is the culture of dependency which is destroying the economy and the fabric of society. We need to support those who, for a range of reasons, cannot support themselves but we should not be supporting people who can.
As such, universalism has had it’s day. It needs to go and it needs to go now. By paying people who don’t need it, the money is not getting through to the people who do and that is wrong, politically and economically. It’s time to abandon the sacred cow that the Labour Party has been scared to address for many years. Ed Balls’ decision may only save £100 million but it has bigger significance. It should be the beginning of a conversation with the public that says we are going to cut back significantly on public spending to allow people and businesses to keep more of their money so that wealth and jobs can be created. In doing so it will send a signal that we are in the side of everyone, not just the few, the wealthy or the marginalised. In doing so, we can truly reflect the wishes and desires of the people and our ‘Campaign for a Labour Majority’ may be successful by the time of the general election in 2015
Follow John on Twitter: @f00tballreferee