The NHS, Ozzy Osbourne and universal welfare reform

When rejecting universal welfare reforms, we need to consider the impact on solidarity between citizens, writes the Fabian Society's James Gregory.

James Gregory is a Senior Research Fellow at the Fabian Society

This week was the 63rd anniversary of founding of the National Health Service – an event marked by a personal tribute from that other national treasure, Ozzy Osbourne. In voicing his admiration of the NHS, Ozzy was expressing a very British love of a very British institution.

But in some respects this is a confusing anomaly. It would be a stretch to say that this broad admiration was extended to the other cornerstones of our welfare state. We certainly don’t see such sentiment applied to benefits or social housing.

Instead we see a resentment of benefit ‘scroungers’. All too often this also comes with the sense that immigrants are the prime suspect in a great welfare scam; ‘jumping queues’ and taking out what they never put in.

When this happens it is easy to think that diversity can only erode the trust and common bonds which have underpinned the post-war welfare state. Some commentators have gone so far as to suggest there is an inevitable trade-off here; difference and diversity undermine the sense that we are, in the phrase of the day, all in this together.

And without this sense of solidarity we can’t have a strong welfare state.

But this begs the question: why is it that the NHS remains so enduringly popular – with Ozzy and the general public – despite decades of immigration? This is the question I seek to answer in a new Runnymede Trust report on welfare and ethnic diversity, ‘Diversity and Solidarity: Crisis, What Crisis?’

If the NHS is so central to our national identity, why is it that other welfare institutions create such resentment of an apparently dependent and ‘undeserving poor’, either immigrant or from a long line of British families?

The answer to this question has important implications for welfare reform and the division or solidarity that reform can create.

That answer, put simply, is that universal welfare institutions tend to create common bonds of citizenship, whereas narrowly targeted welfare services tend to divide us as a population, characterising some as needy and dependent, and others as virtuous and independent.

An exemplar of such a process is to be found in the way some describe much failed social housing as ‘sink-estates’; estates of outsiders very much ‘not like us’. By contrast, the evidence suggests more inclusive and collective welfare provision (such as the NHS, universal benefits, or well planned social housing and schools) can have the opposite effect.

Collective welfare institutions that bring people into contact through common needs and services can retain strong support in diverse societies – and indeed help provide the glue of common citizenship.

For some this claim will strike a deep chord. It would indeed seem counter-intuitive to assert, for instance, that our society must choose between a strong NHS or increasing diversity, given a popular understanding that the NHS has depended on its diverse workforce.

But the deeper point behind the continued popularity of this institution is that it serves us regardless of our social or ethnic differences – and in doing so sends out a very strong signal about our common identity as British citizens.

This is one of the great lessons we should take form the NHS on its 63rd birthday. When making decisions about welfare reforms and rejecting the universal, we ought to consider the impact such changes can have on solidarity between citizens.

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10 Responses to “The NHS, Ozzy Osbourne and universal welfare reform”

  1. BendyGirl

    RT @leftfootfwd: The NHS, Ozzy Osbourne and universal welfare reform

  2. Mary McDonough Clark

    The NHS, Ozzy Osbourne and universal welfare reform: by @TheFabians's James Gregory

  3. Robert

    Today I parked my car for once at a disability parking space, got my wheelchair out, sat in it, took me twenty odd minutes, a young lady and her boy friend parked next door to me out they get he puts up the blue badge.

    It starts to rain they both jog into the shop which was Tesco grabbing a trolley, he jumps over the barrier to get the trolley and then speeds off into the shop. As I pass the car I just take a look at the badge, he’s put it the wrong way around and it looks like a lady of seventy on the picture.

    I’m now in the store with my grandson who is my minder and these two are playing around, on the way out we both get back to our cars, he said to me I saw you looking at my badge mate happy, I said yes fine, except it’s not yours mate. I get a mouth full of aggression and there gone.

    The world has changed in my day when I was fit I would never dream of parking in a disability spot now it’s nothing.

    same as Blair speech about scroungers work shy hard working families and tax payers. I hear Miliband say often this country of hard working families of tax payers. world has become a place again as it was between the two wars.

    You have a prick like Blair who sends our troops into battle situation without ever having severed himself, you have Miliband who has never even gotten dirt under his finger nails, yet these people run the country.

    As for immigrants and Labour what I think is best for me to say nothing. and it’s not against the immigrants but labours lack of housing

  4. Runnymede Trust

    Blog post up today on @leftfootfwd on our new report on welfare and diversity, written by @theFabians

  5. Cities of Migration

    Blog post up today on @leftfootfwd on our new report on welfare and diversity, written by @theFabians

  6. mr. Sensible

    The principle of universal benefits is an important one, and I think that’s something headline writers tend to miss.

  7. Vicki Butler

    Blog post up today on @leftfootfwd on our new report on welfare and diversity, written by @theFabians

  8. shinichi ozawa

    RT @leftfootfwd: The NHS, Ozzy Osbourne and universal welfare reform

  9. Sam

    Can’t this whole post be summed up by saying ‘Middle class, up-standing daily mail reading types use the NHS, so they like. They don’t get benefits or subsidised housing, so they don’t like them.’

    I’ve always thought that in the USA, part of the reason they’re so anti tax and solidarity etc. is because they don’t have a NHS. It means that if they’re not poor and don’t have children they don’t get any obviously visible benefits until they’re retired and eligible for medicare, infrastructure and a stable and cohesive society being so easy to take for granted.

  10. jonathan smith

    health is the great universal gift and (somewhat wrongly) a lack of good health is somehow conceived as a matter of some lottery we have no control over. Having somewhere to live is not generally conceived of as a universal right in the same way as health – indeed even the homeless are not taken off the streets and given a home, like they (or any citizen) would be given medical attention. So where does the right to have a home stand? It some how fits in the set of consequences of efforts we make to secure shelter. To be given a house as a right looks somehow to by pass “making an effort”. Yet like health ones efforts may not be sufficient. If I have a disability then there will be things I cannot do. Analogously my wages may too small to buy a house. If the Health system becomes private there will be health provision that will beyond the means of some(or many), to purchase. Without a subsidy from those who pay tax we will have no health provision Yet the tax payer may be unable to secure health provision and housing but still contribute to a pool of money that the government may redistribute either to their direct benefit (such as housing, or health), or to more universal and indirect benefit, (say defence, or law and order)).Housing would seem to stand on no more a solid foundation than health provision once it is regarded as a matter of economic acquisition alone. We wish to avoid the health lottery of pay and provision but tend not to see housing in the same way. Yet there is a price to pay for that lottery, not just individually, but socially. I say that not as someone who has not provided their “own” home, but I wouldn’t want anyone to have to live in some of the overpriced rank places, I have lived in – to be unable to be dry, warm and secure against violation by closing one’s door – does seem like some kind of denial of a right.

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