Brendan Barber tells conference welfare state is key part of civilised society and should be supported
A new TUC Touchstone pamphlet published today argues that successive governments have undermined the social security system so that it no longer enjoys popular support.
Rather than the “something for nothing” system attacked by populist politicians, we have a “nothing for something” system from which few people benefit but which costs a great deal as successive chancellors have chosen to raise National Insurance contributions, rather than more progressive income tax rates when they have needed more cash. The result is a system that pays poor benefits, yet is seen as over-generous and subject to widespread abuse by many voters.
To revive support for the kind of proper social security system that has helped many European countries better weather the fall-out from the global downturn, the pamphlet argues for a revival of the contributory principle in a restoration of a genuine national insurance system that provides security for the population.
The pamphlet Making a Contribution – Social Security for the Future, which has been published to stimulate debate rather than set out a detailed blueprint for the future, suggests that raising the perceived value of contributions by ensuring that many more people get some benefit or help in return at some stage in their life can stop the welfare state becoming a system that deliver meagre benefits to poor people. The “Something for something” approach would reduce the stigma of claiming, while pooling risk across the population through national insurance would be cheaper and more efficient than for-profit private schemes.
Suggestions for boosting the national insurance principle include reinstating the national insurance fund as a genuine pot of money, rather than a fiction used to raise taxes. New contributory benefits could also provide help for parents, with training and for the unemployed, giving those who have paid in sufficient contributions higher benefits.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “The welfare state is a key part of what makes us a civilised society, yet it has lost support under both an onslaught of anti-scrounger rhetoric and the poor experience of those who need to draw on it.
“No-one should pretend that there are easy options for those of us who see the advantages of the more generous and popular systems in much of the rest of Europe, but reinvigorating the contributory principle provides one powerful idea.”
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