COMMENT FR FRANK MCHUGH
OT EVERYONE was in favour of the Beveridge scheme when it was being
et up 50 years ago as the velfare state. In a striking mage, the economist and .edoubtable polemicist :ather Paul Crane SJ said hat he would rather crawl han accept the hand-outs of i "granny state" and would prefer to wait until he could tand up with human dignity and provide for himself.
Happily, the welfare state s still with us and ieveridge's system of iniversal provision has not been displaced in last week's Ireen Paper, New Ambiions for our Country, A New 7.:ontract for Welfare. The locument, however, does bring a reminder that Father crane was prophetic on one point emphasised by Frank 'ield, minister for welfare eform, that the welfare state s it developed did create a ulture of dependency.
Behind Fr Crane's uneasiess was the principle of ubsidiarity in Catholic octal thought. This states at political authority hould be located at the ppropriate level. The larger tidy should not do for the twer body what it can do for self; and the lower body tould not do for the indidual what she or he can do erfectly well for themselves. Father Crane's colleague, to distinguished economist olin Clark, was still implanting 25 years later tat the intelligence and rperience of families about Lek own circumstances of iverty were being ignored
"Big Brother in Parliaent", who was intent on :ciding what was best for em, (Poverty before poll7s, P15, IEA, 1977). This reen Paper does respect the
principle of subsidiary function. But Big Brother does have to find the money to pay the bills for welfare, and that bill is now so large that there is a crisis in the welfare state.
Taking social security, health, education, defence, debt and other items together, the bill amounts this year to about £270 billion, of which £83.6 billion goes on social security alone.
There is a duty of stewardship to be exercised by government and no one will question the wisdom of its having to undertake a programme of "compassion with a hard edge".
The Green Paper lists eight guiding principles, and the application of these principles will include measures to safeguard expenditure, like getting people off welfare and into work, lowering spending on certain levels of incapacity in order to spend more money on severely disabled people, and clamping down on social security fraud which costs £4.4 billion per year.
Tackling these economic aspects of the crisis in the welfare state must not detract from the recognition in the Green Paper that the crisis is a moral one, about providing "work for those who can and security for those who cannot", as Frank Field put it when he introduced the Green Paper in Parliament.
Andrew Dilnot has made the point succinctly: "the essential truth is that the welfare state is a reflection of ethical arguments and
beliefs. We have ethical views about the extent of low income and inequality that is acceptable and why. We have ethical views about redistribution of healthcare outcomes and educational access," (Askonas & Frowen, eds, Welfare and Values: Challenging the Culture of Unconcern, Macmillan, 1997).
Underneath the eight practical principles set out in the Green Paper, Frank Field has put in place certain moral principles, such as a preferential option for the poor, ("The poor, the old and the disabled are the main focus of this govern
ment's document"); subsidiaritylself help ("Work with the private sector to ensure people are insured against forseeable risks and for retirement," Principle 2 in the Green Paper); the dignity of labour ("Help and encourage people to work where they are capable of doing so," Principle 1); solidarity ("Duty of Government, Duty of individual, Duty of all," the welfare contract); and the theme that "work is the key". They are principles which echo Pope John Paul's encyclical Laborem exercens (On human tabour. 1981).
It is this moral tone of the Green Paper which awakens an interest in those concerned with Catholic social thinking, whose core concepts were outlined by the Catholic bishops in England and Wales in their document, The Common Good: person in community,
human rights, the option for the poor, subsidiarity and solidarity all themes in the Government's document.
"This Green Paper marks the beginning of a debate on welfare reform, not its conclusion", writes Tony Blair in the foreword. The programme and details have yet to be thought through, and non-official Catholic social thinking, conscious of the lack of a programme and of detailed policy in this Green Paper, must take up the challenge to contribute to this debate on reform.
The option for the poor may well lead us to conclude that the poor, especially poor children, need more than the Green Paper is willing to recognise. After all, the poorest 20 per cent receive a lower share of social security now than they did 20 years ago.
Principles of justice may incline us to argue that there is a need to support a national minimum pension, as suggested by Labour's national commission on social justice. And stakeholder ideas in the Green Paper (with all their limitations) need to work against the social exclusion which has become so much a part of our society.
We have to be aware, of course, that we live in an increasingly globalised world economy imposing severe restrictions on the achievement of national objectives, such as full employment.
It is even more essential to look at the missing piece in the jigsaw: the role that the massive financial sector must take in any worthwhile discussion of ethics in a modern advanced economy. The task is an urgent one. We cannot wait for New Labour's 2020 vision.