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Last Updated: Friday, 22 July, 2005, 15:14 GMT 16:14 UK
David Blunkett on the welfare state
To mark 60 years of the 1945 welfare settlement, the BBC News website invited an array of politicians and social and business experts to debate the future of the welfare state.

David Blunkett is the government's work and pensions secretary.

In 1945 the Labour government and the British people emerged from the devastation of the Second World War determined to take bold and radical steps to reshape society.

David Blunkett

There was a realisation that the common endeavour and mutual support that war had necessitated could be the basis of a new relationship between people and society, and that after a period of turmoil and with the backdrop of post-war austerity, it was imperative that security and stability should be provided for all.

Just as the welfare state was drawn up to face these challenges, so we need to redesign it for the challenges of the 21st century.

Stability and security in uncertain times are the essential backcloth to being able to prevent and overcome rather than simply ameliorate the condition of dependence on others.

That's why our greatest achievements of the last 8 years have been to provide the economic security and the stability for people to invest, to work and earn.

And with SureStart, the Child Trust Fund, and the opportunity and liberation of education we are striving to overcome disadvantage and generational poverty.

And that's why we now have the opportunity to radically re-shape both our society and our welfare state for the future, just as was done in the post-war settlement.

Time of returning troops

But what a different world 1945 was.

The emergence of full employment was on the basis of an expectation of near life-long employment, not just in the same industry, but with the same company, and the safety and security of a pension not only from the government but also from negotiated deferred wages.

But this was a time when 4.5million service personnel were returning to the labour force and the State Pension had been predicated on ten people in work for every one in retirement.

And the National Insurance system was built on the basis that women stayed at home to bring up their family to the point where only 17% retiring now have full contribution records.

But the collapse of heavy industry and the mass unemployment of the 1980s not only brought despair and misery, fractured communities and disintegrating families, but it also changed the nature of the approach to retirement.

Dependency culture?

The use of invalidity payments, now Incapacity Benefit, took whole swathes out of the workforce.

It hugely increased dependence on the State and in so doing changed the nature of the welfare state so that people saw benefit as an automatic right.

The "something for something" deal had broken down. Duties and obligations appeared to be a burden, not a natural commitment in an inter-dependent and mutually reliant society.

That is why this government has sought to rebuild the social fabric of a society which displayed signs of fracture and disfunctionality.

From an education system that offers opportunity and opens up life chances, to employment that provides independence, we have sought to restore self-believe.

The welfare state of the 21st century will not simply be a safety net but an enabler - a ladder out of poverty.

It must embody the mutual acceptance of self-responsibility and the acceptance of responsibility for the well-being of others.

The reform of the welfare state 60 years on is a democratic socialist imperative and not a threat to the foundations of our beliefs. It is not the welfare state of the post-war period that we should deconstruct, but the demolition of those values in the 1980s.

We should see opportunity and security going hand-in-hand, values which recognise and reinforce our inter-dependence and mutuality, sitting comfortably alongside our commitment to self determination, freedom and meaningful choice.


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