During World War II Britain needed to keep morale on the home front intact. One way of doing so was to publish plans for postwar Britain. This was the background to the famous Beveridge Report produced by senior civil servant William Beveridge. The report presaged the future British welfare state, but its centerpiece was the establishment of a social insurance system and the victory over what Beveridge called the 5 giants blocking the road to reconstruction:
Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness.
Now, nearly 70 years later, Beveridge and his 5 giants have been invoked by Ian Duncan Smith the Secretary for Work and Pensions in an article in theTelegraph timed to coincide for the day that his Prime Minister David Cameron unveiled the Welfare Reform Bill in Britain.
The war in Afghanistan is not World War II, but the mood in Britain is grim due to the need for economic austerity. One area where the government hopes to economize is welfare payments whose abuse, the government claims, has warped values and diminished the economy.
Welfare dependency, Educational failure, Addiction, Debt, and Family breakdown are the 5 Giants in current form, identified by Smith as the factors pushing British citizens into poverty. The government is determined to fight them.
The government intends to strengthen the family by having experts sit with couples planning a divorce. These experts will warn the estranged couple about the implications for their children and their personal finances. As Duncan Smith says "if people want to think again, then I think it's in our interest to help point them in the right direction." The tax system will be adjusted to correct a situation where welfare claimants can make more by living apart than as a family.
The welfare system has penalized the working poor because many people find they receive more in unemployment benefits than for work and as a result 1.4 million working age people have received unemployment benefits for 10 years. Under the reform those turning down jobs will be penalized and a limit will be set on benefits paid to a single family.
The government will invest more resources in apprehending welfare cheats and those applying for sick benefits will have to make periodic trips to physicians to maintain their eligibility.
The middle class will also be weaned off benefits as those reporting higher incomes on their tax returns will lose child assistance benefits.
Prime Minister Cameron claimed that the welfare reform bill for was not designed as"an exercise in accounting - it's about changing our culture". Nevertheless the government expects it to save 5.5 billion pounds over the next 5 years.
Duncan Smith and Cameron took pains to assure the population that those in genuine need and the infirm would not be penalized and that the state would continue to look after them.