Hilary Wainwright introduces the first in a series of mythbusters produced by Class, in collaboration with Red Pepper. Download the guide from the Class website.
We are facing government policies of such inhumanity that if they are allowed to be carried through, we will look back in years to come with deep horror and shame. From the attacks on disability benefits to the bedroom tax, these measures return us to the kind of society where poverty was blamed on the poor and gross inequality was accepted as an economic inevitability.
Britain once had a welfare system to be proud of (for all its shortcomings) and it did not come easily. Our welfare state was born from centuries of struggle, culminating in a postwar deal to appease the millions who, through the war, had come to realise their own worth and capacities.
The children of this generation of heroes pushed in the 1960s and 70s for the full realisation of these post-war aspirations; for democracy in the workplace, the family, the universities and indeed every sphere of life.
But at the same time, an increasing section of the ruling class, championed by Margaret Thatcher, broke with the post-war compromise.
Thatcher and her coterie were determined to destroy the welfare state. At that time they did not quite succeed, but they began the process and they forged the ideological weapons. New Labour refined them to further weaken the defences of the social security state. Now the Conservatives, aided by the abject Liberal Democrats, have turned the crisis of the financial markets into a crisis of public spending. They have used this as an excuse to systematically shatter what remains of the welfare state – in other words to finish the destruction begun by Margaret Thatcher.
So how, not even 70 years on from 1945, are they getting away with it? Why are they so rarely challenged when they say that taxing the richest is impossible, but cutting the living standards of the poorest is just being realistic?
This is the importance of the ‘myth’. Milton in his great defence of free speech and a free press urged the importance of debate and argument declaring that 'argument is knowledge in the making'. By contrast, deference to power, or at least to office and the trappings of power, leads to the making of myths.
The crushing of protest in the parties that founded the welfare state, the marginalising of anyone who argues, has over the past thirty years or so created a stagnant political culture in which myths can thrive like algae, poisoning the surrounding environment.Exposing the Myths of Welfare is produced in the spirit of Milton's call to promote argument and debate to arrive at truth. It reasserts the principle of social security as a universal right. It exposes the tall tales used to disguise the ideological dogma of government attempts to replace our welfare state with US-style residual ‘relief’ for the poor.
Please use it to remove the poison and create a political environment in which alternatives can be nourished and a renewed welfare state created of which we can once again be proud.