The National Conversation is not about finding consensus – but rather common ground where people can come together to have grown-up conversations that generate more light than heat.
When we looked at the welfare issue in autumn 2012 – and once we got past partisan rhetoric – we found many people worried that the idea of contribution had slipped out of the welfare debate.
So it’s interesting to see two major papers – The Times and The Independent – publish leaders this week on the question of contribution, and why it’s the key to creating a welfare system that is both fair and affordable. From today’s Times (£):
Sir William Beveridge’s original idea of welfare in Britain was that help was afforded in return for a contribution through national insurance. There was a direct link between paying in during good times and drawing on the pool of collective resources in bad times… The link between contribution and welfare has declined to the point of invisibility and it is understandable that there should be public trepidation when eligibility is no longer in any way earned.
It’s good to see contribution recognised as the critical issue in the welfare discussion. But it will be interesting to see where the discussion goes next. As we found during the National Conversation pilots in York, it’s one thing to agree that contribution is a key principle. Another to determine how that can be made to work in practice.
An editorial in The Independent asks if needs-based welfare has run its course. Should the contributory principle (the basis of Beveridge’s social insurance) make a come back?
In the longer term, the Government should also canvass views about a more contributory benefits system. Much current popular resentment reflects a feeling that there are people getting something for nothing, whether they are new migrants or those who have never worked. Over the years, the role of contributions has been reduced, and greater emphasis placed on need. This shift may now have run its course. A return to more contributory benefits might at once make the system seem fairer to all, without discriminating against new migrants.
We absolutely agree that that “the Government should also canvass views about a more contributory benefits system”. Re-building the welfare system for the kind of society Britain is today needs to start with grown-up conversations about what people believe is workable and fair. For a Westminster political class that’s grown out of touch with the public, this could be a great way to re-start relationships.
You’d think the fact we’re all living longer would be a reason to celebrate. And it is. But this silver lining comes with a big black cloud.
“Today there are 10.6 million people over the age of 65; in two decades’ time, there are expected to be more than 16 million.”
In today’s The Independent, Ian Birrell considers the implications.
Hat tip to Ruth Dudley Edwards.
In a series of articles in this week’s Independent, Andreas Whittam Smith makes a compelling case for how British democracy is broken.