Jamie Reed calls for an all party commission on 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.

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 compact 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.

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

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.

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.

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.

Jamie Reed is Labour MP for Copeland.

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2 Responses to “Jamie Reed calls for an all party commission on the social compact”

  1. Lovely idea. However, given that the current government are, as you say, hostile towards the social compact, how exactly do you expect to get the Lib Dems and Tories to sign up to this?

    And in the event of a Labour victory and such a commission being set up, why exactly would you expect the Tories to play along? They wouldn’t mind a cat-food commission if they were in office, but they wouldn’t want to be signed up to us strengthening the social compact, as they’d want to denounce it as a deliberate imposition of a culture of dependency.

  2. AnneJGP says:

    It doesn’t have to be that way, indeed.

    I’m sorry if this is a shock to you, but my perception is that the coalition is trying to engage in cross-party discussions with a view to reaching a degree of consensus.

    Whether or not this is not actually the case, the PLP needs to take great care not to damage itself by its own actions. For example, the response of Fiona Mactaggart (Chair PLP women) when invited to join APPG women in parliament. Ms Mactaggart’s explanation of her refusal is reasonable, but the fact of refusal carries a message of its own.

    Some time ago I read a biography of Gordon Brown by (I think) Paul Routledge – an empathetic biography, anyway, not one of the later caricatures. One throw-away sentence shocked me very much. It was something like this: He [Gordon Brown] recognised that the long years of Tory government had made people generally much more self-reliant, and that this was a fact that had to be reckoned with.

    I was, and still am, shocked by the implication that Labour sees self-reliance as a bad thing.

    And where the social compact is concerned, if universal state hand-outs is your only means of engaging the interest of well-off people “in the well being of the national community and of all those within it”, I’d say you’re backing a national loser.

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