To William Beveridge it was about eradicating evil – the “giant evils” of squalor, ignorance, want, idleness and disease. To David Cameron it is about encouraging citizens to do the right thing – to work, to save, to take personal responsibility.
The prime minister urges us today to go back to first principles in thinking about what the welfare state is for.
For some it should be the mechanism by which the state seeks greater social justice. For others it should be a mechanism by which the state seeks to promote individual morals.
Mr Cameron’s starting point for a national debate appears to echo the view of the high Tory thinker and journalist TE Utley, who described the welfare state as “an arrangement under which we all largely cease to be responsible for our own behaviour and in return become responsible for everyone else’s.”
Instead, the Conservative leader imagines a welfare system where ministers in Whitehall pull fiscal strings which encourage people towards his party’s core values of hard work, saving, marriage and having children (when you can afford to).
To Mr Cameron, the machinery of state benefits is less about need and more about nudging. He wants to end the “culture of entitlement” and focus on those “who have no other means of support, or who have fallen on hard times”.
In order to strengthen his argument, the Conservative leader paints a picture of “them” and “us”. He talks of a “welfare gap in this country – between those living long-term in the welfare system and those outside it.”
- Mark Easton, Home Editor BBC News