We need to rebuild the welfare state on the principles envisaged by its founders, writes Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS).
The Czech author Milan Kundera said, “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting”.
We used to call welfare 'social security'. The generations that grew up in the post-war years knew that they paid national insurance and tax to insure them against illness, disability and unemployment.
Because we have forgotten that, we have got to a state of affairs where being on benefits means being demonised, and are being made the scapegoats for our economic situation.
The line from ministers that welfare is 'something-for-nothing' is an outright lie that endures because we have forgotten that social security is something we pay for in work to support us when we're out of work.
It justifies the workfare schemes that compel claimants to work for free, full-time for weeks – at pain of losing their benefits and future entitlements. It is right to offer unemployed people workplace opportunities, but they should be optional not compulsory, and should be paid.
This government tells us that the welfare state is unaffordable. Yet it has already found the money to fund giveaways to the rich and big business: the top rate of income tax cut from 50% to 45%, and corporation tax cut from 28% to 24%, with plans to reduce it further to 20%.
These and other tax cuts for the rich and big business – benefitting the top 1% - so far add up to around £30bn of giveaways.
Coincidentally the same government is cutting welfare by £30bn. Cameron and Osborne are effectively taking money from the disabled, the unemployed, lone parents and those struggling to pay rents to give to the super-rich.
This perverse redistribution is possible because of the vilification and bullying of anyone on benefits that began under the Thatcher government, intensified under New Labour and has reached its crescendo under this government, ably amplified by bilious rants of the Daily Mail and Sun.
This welter of propaganda has made us forget what we have, made us doubt the welfare state we should be proud of, and made us demonise those with least.
The Work Capability Assessments carried out by Atos are solely a means of cutting disabled people's income, and should be scrapped – to return to a system where expert public health professionals assess people's needs. Cases of suicides and self harm are increasing – a welfare system that should protect people is now causing harm.
Paralympians have been rightly heralded, but those same athletes and many others now face losing their Disability Living Allowance.
A society that refuses to support its most vulnerable has lost the right to be called civilised. We need to rebuild the welfare state on the principles envisaged by its founders: on the basis of full employment, universal benefits set at a level to live in dignity, publicly delivered.
Tomorrow at the TUC we will start that process of rebuilding a welfare system, “the struggle of memory against forgetting” – not to memorialise the 1940s welfare system but to build a system to meet people's needs today.