I have a dream – I dare to imagine a world not unlike that described by John Lennon. I imagine an international welfare system, providing the basic needs of life, to all, free of charge, as a right.
I look to the creation of the British Welfare State in 1945, following the Beverage report of 1942. The subsequent National Insurance Act and National Health Service Act.
This was created to tackle the horrors of late Victorian Britain and has been under attack ever since by those opposed to any form of social cooperation, or socialism. The most sustained attack came in the 1980’s when the right wing government of Thatcher weakened the welfare system, privatised the essentials of human life (for profit) and encouraged corporate provision of basic services (for profit). Privatisation extended well beyond the utilities of water and energy (remember the attack on the coal miners?) to the privatisation of housing. We now call it a housing market – how easily we fall into line?
In 1914 90% of dwellings in Britain were privately rented. In 1993 70% of dwellings were privately ‘owned’ (with debt to banks). Thatcher also attacked the welfare state by limiting children’s access to free school meals and ending free milk. She is also known for the introduction of aerated ice-cream. Yes, bulking ice-cream out with air. That seems to typify her economic policies – create a profit margin, thus a surplus for private gain. Never the provision of quality but instead the creation of winners and losers, capitalists and consumers, with a profit skimmed off.
Those of you who ideologically rally to the right wing call of unregulated market economics think of the time you spend trying to contact your bank by phone, the hours spent listening to recorded messages, the rise in your gas bills, the need to boil your water and the ludicrous mess that is our train ‘network’. Think of your mortgage rising and your blood pressure. Think of houses that will fall down before you do, of equipment that fails before the warranty is up. What about your health? Is this the best we can get? What about the ‘quality’ – the quality of life? I’m not talking of the past but of my dream for the future!
My dream – is to take the principle of the welfare state and apply it globally – to everyone, irrespective of race, religion, age, health, ability to pay or even if they want it or not.
Clean drinking water, basic food, shelter, access to basic healthcare. Clean air too.
This paid for by all of us, the wealthy, through taxation, via international organisations (such as a true United Nations). Not hand outs for doing nothing, not dependency upon benefits and grants but a simple safety net and thus the ability to function as human beings, to work, create and supply.
There are those who say we cannot afford it. These are the same as the Victorian gentlemen (gentle?) who praised work houses, asylums, exploitation of foreign people and resources. The same as those who draped in fine clothes, jewels and fine perfume step over the poor, destitute and depressed begging in the street. The same as those who looked upon people with different skin colour as either slaves or vermin.
We, in this country, have moved on from those dark days of extreme wealth and extreme poverty – largely thanks to Lloyd George and Beverage – yet the threat of slipping back into those times is returning as the beast of corporate greed prowls the globe, cloaked in media beautification and advertising. The gap between rich and poor is widening – not just globally but in our own country. Some think this is good. How sick is that? They’ll have us building famine walls across the land before see us healthy.
We can afford a global human dignity. We can afford an International Welfare System. We can eradicate the gross disparity in living conditions, quality of life, life expectancy, health. Oh yes, we can do this. We will have to change but we can do it. In the past our wealth was extracted from the poorer regions of the Empire on the backs of slaves, serfs and the murdered (to put it bluntly). What is stopping us is the myth that it cannot be done (quickly), that we would all be living in squalor and, the worst reason of all, that a lot of people do not care. A few even actively encourage an economic system that keeps themselves segregated in their opulent wealth, estates, gated communities and secure palaces. We sit in our safe countries detached from real suffering, safe behind our passports, immigration officials and border guards.
We rich get fat, depressed, bored and stressed. The poor get sick, starve, terrified or killed. The proof that the present system isn’t working is all around us. Life is, for most of us, not all that good. We turn to drugs, religion or suicide as ways to cope. We block it out, have a drink, watch TV, take anti-depressants, focus on any distraction we can to deny the truth. We are not as well as we could be.
The signs are it is going to get much worse: Global warming, energy crisis, food supplies, population increase, pollution, loss of drinkable water, debt, ill health. Oh stop! However, these are issues that will not, cannot go away. There is no magic wand, no caring super power (god), no alternate universe. We are up against the wall with nowhere to hide. So either we do something about it and make life better or we just numb our heads and give up. As you are reading this (as opposed to being off your head or dead) I guess you are not really the “bury your head and ignore it” sort of person.
So, lets have a Beverage Report for the 21st century, for our problems of today, for the people around us and the place we live. 60 years ago the National Health Service changed life in Britain. Not everyone believed in it, just as some prefer the ‘ways’ in the US today. They are a small minority. The majority want a safer, securer, healthier and fairer future – and we know, in our hearts that it might just be us who needs help in the future – so better help everyone and be a good Samaritan. It also makes us feel better helping others.
Life today is better than those men of Victorian Britain knew – so too could our future be better than today!
Imagine … and then make it happen.