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Thursday, 4 April 2013

Welcome to the Golden Age

The post title is not sarcasm. It is simply fact. Despite what the gutter press would have you believe, the institution of a welfare state circa 60 years ago has not led to the gradual devolution of our country into a sad reflection of a once golden nation. There never was a golden age. At every point in the past of this country more people died, of illness, violence, poverty, and general ignorance, than they do now.

And, in fact, the welfare state has been a significant part of ensuring that we live in what can only be considered a golden age of humanity, certainly in comparison with every other era that has gone before us, and many countries who currently co-exist with us.

However, that's not what many right-wing commentators would have you believe. They are convinced, and subsequently want to convince you, that this society is rotten to its very core. It's populated by scroungers, murderers, layabout, wastrels, and worse, all brought into existence because we have a state that supports the poor, the ill, and the disabled.

Any complaints to the contrary, like, for example that the welfare state supports the aforesaid groups, and that actually, there are bad apples in every society (whether it has a welfare state or not) is met with a chorus of derision.

"Pffft," they say, "You damned leftie. How could anything possibly be worse? Surely, if the state wasn't there to support these people, then they'd have to start working harder? Surely, if we weren't so soft on crime people would stop murdering and thieving and defrauding"

Well, would they? Would they?

Let's have a look at the evidence. And I don't mean someone on benefits splattered over the front page of a trashy tabloid, which proclaims (while lasciviously listing the intimate details of that person's sex life, you know, to show how depraved they are) that they are poor, and ill-educated, and just a bad sort because, because there is a state that supports them.

I mean the long-term evidence about what life is like in this country. Because without that, we can't possibly know whether "things are worse now", can we?

And who knows, perhaps I'll find that mythical Golden Age, and then we can all petition our MPs to return to EXACTLY the same laws, social circumstances, and voting rights that we had then, because obviously, it doesn't matter if child mortality rates have fallen, racism and sexism and homophobia are no longer tolerated by law, more children are educated now and to a better rate than they ever were. It doesn't matter if we now have a minimum wage, or universal suffrage, or a system which supports people who are unable to work through disability, and who would once have had to turn to begging or prostitution.

None of that matters. Do you know why? Because none of that sells papers.

What sells papers is a man with 15 children, who has threesomes with his neighbours and concocts a stupid scheme that kills 6 of his children.

But that doesn't mean the system is wrong. Just because one family didn't work doesn't mean the whole system doesn't work. But that doesn't sell papers.

What sells papers is a blistering attack on the welfare state, which directly equates welfare to why this man killed his own children. Because that's easier than confronting reality.

Which is this: those parents were failing. They received money from the state which they failed to turn into nutritious food, warm clothes, and a rich and loving environment for their children.

And so what do we do?

Choice 1: Take away state money from every other family who needs it. From every other family who is poor and struggling, but who takes that state money and turns it it into food, and clothes, and an environment filled with positive experiences. Take that away, just in case a minority of people abuse it. Knowingly consign children into poverty because of a moral outrage whipped up by the gutter press?

Choice 2: Keep the welfare state. Support families who need support. Don't consign children into poverty and crime, simply because the right-wing media wants more money for the millionaires.

Let's take Choice 2. Choice 1 looks like the rest of human history. It sees the elderly dying of cold, parents choosing to let their children eat rather than them, children bought and sold by people desperate to make money. It sees people choosing between food and medical bills, in a competitive system that is supposed to make it "better for consumers". The ability to make Choice 2 was bought for us by the solidarity of our ancestors, who refused to accept anything less from the ruling elite.

Don't let their sacrifices be for nothing. Don't let the richest in our society fool you into thinking that you will gain from the loss of the welfare state. Don't believe their lies.


  1. Well said.

    I think its more than selling papers, though, its perpetuating familiar prejudices to the detriment of all. Society, I would argue, IS getting worse, only because our media, amd pur government, are letting us down. This cynical, selfish attitude that is rife just now genuinely sickens me.

    The recent statements by the government have actually lead me to plan to vote yes next year. Plenty time to change my mind, but right now I want nothing to do with Westminster.

    1. You are right - it is much more than selling papers, and that was a lazy shorthand for exactly what you have described - perpetuating familiar prejudices (because it simple, and easy, and evocative, and yes, it sells) to the majority's detriment (I'm sure some people must profit from it!).

  2. I was at an NCETM conference last summer in Cambridge where they were summarising how far mathematical educators had got in determining what methods promote the best learning experiences. The latest we'd got in Britain was to discover the value of active learning (not that Michael Gove had noticed) so we expected that the top ranking country in 2012 would be all about that. Shock horror, when ambassadors from various countries headed over to Finland ready to take copious notes they found they were teaching kids to learn by rote, sitting behind desks with barely a whiff of active learning or the like. What they did discover however, was that Finland offers the same educational experiences to all children irrespective of social status & income. And that all basic social services cost either next to nothing or are free (childcare, for example - imagine that!) - and that such equity is good for everyone and not just educationally, the Finnish are generally happier & healthier. But that neither sells papers nor fits tidily into the worldview of a person who earns more than £1000/week...

    1. That is really interesting, thanks for raising it! I sit on the Education, Children and Families Committee of my local City Council (as you may know if you have read the blog before), and I've been trying to square this news about active learning versus learning by rote, and why one (which intuitively seems it should be worse) is actually used in countries that top the league tables.

      I bet Michael Gove misses off the bit about everyone having to have equal access for this to work when he tries to push his names and dates agenda along with his "free schools" (read: privatisation by stealth schools) mantra.

  3. Lindsay, it's Cathy here! Sorry I didn't mean to be anonymous for some reason I'm signed in with a Google ID I haven't used for yonks... Anyway, I didn't mean to totally diss active learning, it is a pretty useful tool for observing what techniques children devise for themselves to make learning more meaningful. It is definitely a scarier method to use as a teacher because you have to find clever ways to monitor what the kids are actually up to, but it is possible & it allows for dialogic learning which is supposed to be very good for learners of all ages. But I'm a big believer in everything in moderation & active learning doesn't *teach* children the skills they need - but then again learning everything by rote doesn't teach a child to think for themselves. Mike Askew is a pretty highly respected mathematician who's researched & written some useful papers about this; his preferred term is 'guided discovery', a balance of the two & which he believes is used by the most effective Maths teachers. And I should add something about the Finland situation, they do pay much higher taxes and they are naturally more homogenous as a society so equity is a more feasible aim. It could be argued that one way to increase the possibility of that here is to achieve independence for Scotland but that's probably a discussion for another day... ;)

    1. Hello Cathy - I didn't realise it was you (obviously!).

      I'm off to read more about Finland - I think they are a smaller country than the UK?

    2. I meant Scotland actually, not UK, in terms of their size.