The Welfare State We’re In
I can think of no good reason why the publishers of The Welfare State We’re In see the need for this new edition. Virtually no recent data has been added to the analysis: the author cites few examples of the performance of the welfare state from after 2003. Selective reporting of anecdote is presented as evidence. Cause, consequence, and coincidence are casually conflated.
Why have the publishers not demanded an update of the facts? In an afterword the author James Bartholomew does acknowledge criticisms that, since the first publication, improved outcomes have been seen in the NHS, particularly citing claims made for improved cancer treatments since 2000. But even so, this is written at a time when he is able to state: ‘We won’t know the five-year survival rates … until at least 2009.’ Yet the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine reported in 2011 that overall survival times in England and Wales improved from one year for those diagnosed in 1971-2 to 5.8 years for patients diagnosed in 2007. Why not quote this evidence?
The premise that the welfare state has failed is one that the author is determined to demonstrate, whether or not the evidence compels this conclusion. Lazy thinking abounds. In the preface, Bartholomew describes a discussion in the early 1990s with Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, and his colleague Peter Wright. Dacre and his cronies consider the litany of woe – ‘… murders, rapes, senseless violence … poor educational standards and hospital waiting lists’ – which form the staple of their daily reporting. ‘What,’ Dacre wonders despairingly, ‘has gone wrong?’ The author ‘hesitantly’ replies: ‘The welfare state.’
Well, let me offer an alternative suggestion to Bartholomew of what had gone wrong. Maybe, by the early 1990s, after more than a decade of Thatcherism, it was the destruction of traditional industry, the lack of secure employment, the rise in poverty, the attacks on social security, the underinvestment in public services, and increasing inequality that did so much harm.
There are numerous more detailed examples throughout the book of such faulty and deficient analysis. This is not rigorous research; it is a hotchpotch of hostility to the welfare state, prejudice and bigotry, dressed up as reasoned argument. I found myself snorting with a mix of derision, despair and fury. But I also felt a great anxiety – because, of course, this ill-informed nonsense is exactly what the present government wants to hear.
Kate Green MP is shadow minister for equalities
The Welfare State We’re In
Biteback Publishing | 320pp | £14.99
Thatcherism, welfare, welfare reform