Why do people defend the changes that Margaret Thatcher’s government made to the welfare state as if her modifications were the essence of welfare? To understand this we must separate the welfare state invented in 1948 from the welfare state that was reinvented by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.
I find it extraordinary that so many people on the liberal-left of the political spectrum stick religiously to a defence of the distortions that Thatcher brought to the welfare state as if they were the welfare state’s very heart and soul. For in defending the abuses that benefit has been put through, opening the sluice gates, they are defending a Thatcher innovation.
The hater of big government made government bigger in her time in office. The hater of state support closed down the state-supported industries but warehoused many of its former workers on social security. And when asked by Lord Willie Whitelaw, home secretary, what did she intend doing with nearly a million workers, she said: “Let them have benefit.”
Yet now the cul de sac that many of the former industry’s workforce were backed into is defended tooth and nail by many of the left of today. Do they not have a memory? Don’t they know history? Or worst of all – can’t they conceive of how terrible the future is for you and your family on long-term benefit?
If Thatcher was the new inventor of social collapse expressed as benefit, then the ‘child of Thatcher’, Tony Blair, took up her lead. He opened the sluice gates to even more people joining benefit, rather than investing in new working skills creation and education.
And then he did many underpaying employers a great service: rather than legislate and fight and argue for better wages for low-paid workers, he gave them benefit. Or in other words, gave the benefit to the underpaying employers via the wage packets of the underpaid workers.