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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 February 2005, 10:35 GMT
Head-to-head: Welfare reform
The government has announced changes to the Incapacity Benefit, including introducing financial penalties for those who refuse to actively seek work.

Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee and James Bartholomew, author of The Welfare State We're In, give their views on the welfare state today.

JAMES BARTHOLOMEW

I certainly believe we'd be better off if the welfare state had not been created, by which I mean the development since about 1906.

The welfare state has created mass unemployment on a long-term basis. Before the welfare state, before 1911 when unemployment insurance was first brought in, unemployment was rare, small scale and temporary.

Jobcentre
I believe the whole character of Britain has deteriorated and changed: there's more crime, it's a less decent society because of the creation of the welfare state.
James Bartholomew

Families and friendly societies supported those who were in need. The amount of dependency and unemployment and misery caused by unemployment was vastly less.

But the indictment against the welfare state doesn't just stop at unemployment - it starts with lower standards of healthcare than we would otherwise have had. Fifteen thousand people a year die because we have cancer treatment so far below the average of European countries.

Education levels are so low now that adult illiteracy runs at 20% according to the government's own figures.

I believe the whole character of Britain has deteriorated and changed: there's more crime, it's a less decent society because of the creation of the welfare state.

One of the terrible things that happen now is that not only are people low paid, but worse than that, the government taxes those people who it simultaneously defines as being in poverty.

If you earn just 10,000, or have an investment income as a pensioner of just 10,000, you will be taxed by the government which simultaneously says you are in poverty.

That is one of the effects of the welfare state. It now taxes the poor - which wasn't the intention in 1951 at all.

In 1951 if you were a couple with two children on average earnings you paid zero income tax. Now, if you're on a fraction of average earnings, you pay income tax.

The welfare state has got to stop discouraging work, stop discouraging saving, stop encouraging unmarried parenting and divorce, stop taxing the poor, stop encouraging fraud and lies - which is what it does.

POLLY TOYNBEE

It depends what you think the welfare state is there to do.

If you think it's there to create a better, happier, healthier society then of course it's been on great benefit.

Polly Toynbee
The welfare state has done more than any other single institution to try to do something about making sure people don't fall too far behind.
Polly Toynbee

We have the most unequal country in Europe: we have very, very low pay and very, very low benefits.

In fact the largest single group of poor people in this country are those in work and earning very little.

That is why we have this huge and, until recently, growing disparity between the rich and the poor - one that 80% of the population think is unfair.

The welfare state has done more than any other single institution to try to do something about making sure people don't fall too far behind.

Anyone who speaks to aged grandparents about what life was like before the NHS wouldn't want to go back to those days.

Tax credits take you hugely up the scale than anyone has been before ever, under any government.

Those with children have done very, very well. It's those without children who have genuinely fallen behind in the last few years and suffer most.

I think the whole 'new deal' approach has been very progressive.

It's worked very well.

It's often changed the culture and the attitude and given a spirit of hope by producing personal advisors who've done very well in changing people's belief in what they can do.

I think that carrot approach is what we're going to see more of.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
How the prime minister wants to 'reward work'



SEE ALSO:
Incapacity benefit overhaul due
02 Feb 05 |  UK Politics
Q&A: Incapacity benefit
01 Feb 05 |  Health
Blair signals more radical reform
01 Feb 05 |  UK Politics
Getting a benefits check-up
17 Aug 04 |  Business
Unions defend incapacity payouts
06 Oct 04 |  Business
Poor take-up of disabled New Deal
10 Sep 04 |  Business


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