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Last Updated: Monday, 25 July, 2005, 09:08 GMT 10:08 UK
Malcolm Rifkind 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.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind

Sir Malcolm Rifkind is the Conservative shadow work and pensions secretary.

Conservatives are proud to celebrate the creation of the welfare state.

As the dominant party of the post-war years, Conservative governments and ideas have played a crucial part its development.

They must do so again; for the long-term future of our welfare system and for the future success of my party.

The notion of a post-war welfare settlement does an injustice to the

differences in approaches between the major parties, both throughout the post-war years and today.

Choice

In tackling the big future problems that the welfare state faces, Conservatives must not be afraid to offer a distinctive Conservative agenda.

We must show that we understand and share public concerns about the problems in the system, and that our ideas and policies can address these problems for the benefit of all.

Extending choice will inevitably be vital for the future development of the welfare state.

The 1945 'take what you are given' model, devised in a time of rationing and austerity, is simply not sustainable.

We put forward polices to widen choice in education and the NHS at the election. Our challenge now is to build on this work and demonstrate how choice can be meaningful for the millions of people who live with poorly performing schools and inadequate hospitals.

Greater choice is not an end in itself; it is the best way to delivery greater quality for all and for this choice to be a valid option we must present alternatives through the state, private sector or by different methods of management or delivery.

Wealth creation

In welcoming advances made, we must also recognise that the welfare state is still far from perfect.

Too many people are left languishing on disability benefits, too many pensioners (especially women) are in poverty or subject to the means-test, too many children leave school with insufficient reading and writing skills and too many people are dissatisfied with their experience of the NHS.

We must reform our tax and welfare system to meet these needs. Only free enterprise can create the necessary wealth to tackle these problems.

Only a partnership of capitalism and government can reach that minority of our fellow citizens who do not yet share the prosperity of the majority.

We must win the argument of ideas in favour of funding the welfare state in this way. Many people are wary of the creeping involvement of the voluntary and private sector.

We must show people that their fears are unfounded and that everyone will benefit from this involvement. This is something that Labour cannot do convincingly because of its own internal ideological divisions.

Waste

I believe that the future also lies in transforming the system from a Whitehall-run system to a more devolved local system.

We need to return local power to local communities and that includes greater control over the services that local people use.

Billions of pounds in the NHS have been wasted by the micro-management of Ministers in London imposing targets and penalties on hospitals. Schools and head teachers suffer the same interference as do chief constables trying to deal with the upsurge in local violent crime.

We now need to promote a major transfer of real power away from Whitehall to a local level, and to the experts who work in our public services.

People live in communities, and where responsibilities and the use of resources require accountability, local government can meet that need.

It is less true than ever that Whitehall knows best.





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