Nebulous idea’s from the nebulously minded (1) – “social compact”

Sometimes one just wonders where people get this sort of idea’s from… this is a recent offering on Labour Uncut by Jamie Reed, Labour MP for Copeland, on the concept of the “social compact”.

The British social compact, underpined by a progressive welfare state, is the glue which binds us as a society. The compact transcends race, class, gender and religion. On the factory floor and at the pit top, in classrooms and in pulpits, the creation of a good society became the cause to which millions of people devoted their energy and their lives. A society in which the individual, the community and the state shared a common interest in the well being of the national community and of all those within it.

Hey guys, I’ve some bad news. This isn’t actually true. First off, most people, most of the time, act primarily in their own self interest. The religious call this “original sin”, the philosophers call it human nature. Secondly, rather than under-pinning any ‘society glue’, the welfare state has for most people killed off any vestiges of interest in anyone else’s wellbeing. After-all, the state looks after that now doesn’t it…?

The creation of the welfare state breathed life into this massive civic movement and for decades – across the right, left and centre of British politics – commitment to this social copmpact was demonstrably real. The needs of the ‘real society’ were understood and acted upon. Differing governments brought changes of many kinds, but the social compact remained despite often incredible domestic tensions.

I think the operative word is ‘tripe’. The welfare state killed of lots of small scale mutual insurance schemes. The rest of this paragraph is meaningless waffle.

Without any democratic mandate, this government has set about unpicking this compact wth its ferocious attack upon child benefit and – imminently – other universal benefits.

We did elect them. I suppose that’s either not democratic, or because we didn’t read the small print right, its not a mandate…? And cutting child benefit for the pretty well off, who can easily afford it is apparently ferocious. Goodness only knows what you would call cutting benefits for the poor then.

The result of these cuts will be rapidly to alienate large sections of taxpayers who will see (and will be encouraged to see) their taxes funding a system from whch they will receive little or no benefit over the course of their lives. Wider social considerations are absent from this equation.

Alienate them from what exactly? The excitement of receiving a small percentage of their taxes back as cash? I’ve occasionally had cheques from the tax office for several hundred quid, usually because they have overestimated my earnings for the year. This doesn’t make me like paying income tax, it makes me hacked off that the tax office is run by people so incompetent that they have to take money off me, and then pay it me back again. Outside of left-wing think tanks, few people are actually impressed by the idea of the government taxing them with one hand, while pressing money on them with the other.

This attitude did not simply take root within society on May 11th ths year, but it has been aggressivley fuelled by the new government and enthusiastically recognised as a tool with which to unpick our social compact. On the left, we do not see taxation as simply transactional. Individuals will not always draw down benefits equal to the contribution that they make. Progressive taxation systems are not the mirror image of savings accounts.

Or, in plain English, we, the taxpayers are angry that a very large amount of our money is being used to keep the workless out of work, to keep the poor poor, and ensure they all get to watch Jeremy Kile. Just to make this clear – we are quite happy to contribute to the genuinely needy, the problem is that we know, and you know, and we know that you know, most welfare money goes to the undeserving feckless.

If by the social compact you mean supporting the feckless in their idleness, thank-goodness it is being unpicked. Is there any way I can help?

So just as the great depression resulted in so much of the emboldened civic activity which lead to the creation of the welfare state, we now need to reassess the role of the welfare state in response to the ongoing international economic chaos. This can be done by a single political party, but such a reassessment would only be likely to last for the length of one, probably fixed-term, parliament.

To achieve a lasting social compact in the context of the banking failure and the very painful social policy consequences likely as a result of this, an all party commission should now be established charged with renewing the compact. We must restore the faith and trust of the public in a system which the overwhelming majority of us will need at some point in our lives. Such a commission should seek to underpin and reinforce the social benefits and neccessity of such a system as well as the individual good derived from its existence.

Without cross party engagement, the government will only reinforce the increasingly widespread view that its programme of cuts and universal benefit reductions is far from an economic necessity (it isn’t) and little more than an ideological assault on our social compact.

This is mostly waffle. The economic climate has little to do with anything, apart from increasing the urgency with which we should be reviewing profligate spending on the feckless. It wasn’t right that we were encouraging idleness at the height of the last boom, and it isn’t right that we encourage it now.

The welfare state is currently at the centre of our political discourse. Its future is at stake. Lasting change can only be achieved with overwhelmingly widespread public and political support. Partisan dogma will ultimately be reversed, weaken the compact further and cost the taxpayer more in the long run.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

If you haven’t noticed, there is widespread public support – why else do you think 83% of voters approve of the child benefit cut? As for widespread political support, at least 50% of the Commons is behind the measures. Anyway, you’ve just spent most of the last 500 words tell us how the evil Tories will destroy the social compact, now you want to work with them on it? Pathetic.

Oh, as a parting shot; given you’re an MP, can’t you learn to use a spell checker? Your piece is full of typo’s. Maybe living in a glass house, I shouldn’t throw stones on this, but then I’m just a prole after all…

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