Labour shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves on Sunday Politics.
Did you spot what she got wrong, readers?
“What our welfare state was based on was that you pay into the system, you contribute to the system, before you’re able to draw down on benefits.”
No it wasn’t, you stupid, hateful woman. That’s the exact OPPOSITE of the basis of the welfare state. What you’re describing is in effect a personal pension, where what you get back is directly related to what you put in, where your payments are and remain an individual asset and investment.
But the principle of a welfare state, indeed the entire concept of socialism, is “From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”. In a welfare state, some people get back more than they pay in, and vice versa. It’s an inescapable fact of the structure. Some are chronically ill and/or disabled from birth, yet are still cared for by the state from cradle to grave despite the fact that they may never have been able to work a day in their life. Others will work and pay taxes for decades then die before they can retire, having never had a penny back for all their contributions.
The same principle also applies to the wider notion of “society”. The childless still pay for schools. People whose house has never burned down still pay for the fire brigade. Those who’ve never been the victim of a crime still pay for the police.
The welfare state is a COLLECTIVE endeavour, where everyone who’s able to pay in does so, for the benefit of those in need, because ultimately it’s best for all if we don’t leave the poor, the old and the sick to die in the streets. (And, of course, because tomorrow it might be you or someone in your family that needs the help.) It’s not an INDIVIDUAL insurance policy where only the payee can ever get anything out. That’s what insurance companies are for, not the government.
Immigrants are only the low-hanging fruit. Labour has said that it wants to make contributions the cornerstone of welfare entitlements in other areas too, such as ending the right of the young to unemployment benefits. It’s part of the party’s wholesale adoption of Conservative rhetoric about “something for nothing”, a phrase Scottish voters tasted rather sooner than the rest of the UK under Johann Lamont’s leadership of the local branch office.
If Labour want to effectively abolish the welfare state in order to compete with the Tories and UKIP for right-wing votes, they’re perfectly entitled to campaign on that platform. But civilised readers may feel that to instead rewrite the most basic and fundamental ideological premise of it, while cynically pretending to be protecting it, is exactly the sort of craven, gutless, unprincipled dog-whistle politics that’s got the party into such an unholy, but richly deserved, electoral mess.