The official launch of Peter Beresford’s book taking place this evening as part of an engaging debate on the future of the welfare state by an impressive panel of speakers including John McDonnell, Natalie Bennett and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.
We asked Peter to kick start thinking about the issue by sharing his thoughts on why he felt All our welfare was a book that needed to be written….
What was wrong with it, could it be improved? I wanted to see how well modern neo-liberal social policy lived up to its claims of improving on state welfare. But most of all, I wanted to explore what social policy might look like and how it might be secured, which was truly participatory and involved us in all our diversity in improving our well-being –the cross-party mantra of modern public policy.
And because my concern here, as in all my work, has been with ‘user involvement’ and ‘citizen participation’, I wanted to do this in a participatory way; engaging with experiential as well as ‘expert’ or professional knowledge, drawing on my own, my family’s and many other people’s experience as welfare service users.
The reader will be the judge of how well this task has been tackled. But it led me to a realization that there was a key question facing modern social policy, that barely seems to have been articulated, let alone addressed in all the discussions, developments and reforms that have been taking place.
“‘welfare’ has in some mouths become a dirty word…”
This question is, how should people look after each other in a twenty first century society, like Britain? As I have said in the book, while ‘welfare’ has in some mouths become a dirty word, it is essentially concerned with how we take care of each other as human beings.
In her foreword to the book, the writer and journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown gets to the heart of the matter. She asks: ‘Why and when did taking care of each other as humans become contentious?’ And she offers an answer of her own:
“When the powerful decided that is how we should think and behave. In the past decade, inequality has not only become more acceptable, it is now a divisive policy tool: the poor, migrants, lone parents, disabled people, have been demonised and left utterly vulnerable by politicians and right-wing journalists. They are the ‘collateral damage’, those who were unfit for survival in the jungle that is Great Britain.”
Not everyone will agree with Yasmin’s explanation. But we must all acknowledge the validity of her question, as we see constant media and political attacks on asylum seekers, poor people, mental health service users and other marginalized groups.
“..the modern tendency is often to see ‘welfare’ as something for other people, often people devalued as ‘others’, treated as distant from ‘us’..”
In this book I have sought both to think this issue through (especially following the electoral victory of the Conservatives last May) and also identify sustainable long term ways of addressing it for the future.
While the modern tendency is often to see ‘welfare’ as something for other people, often people devalued as ‘others’, treated as distant from ‘us’, I have sought to make better sense of the personal connections; between me, my family and public policy – and I believe that doing this has helped my understanding. I think it is an exercise that we might all benefit from.
“Despite what politicians tell us, no man or woman is an island…”
I hope that reading this book, will encourage many more to attempt a similar exercise. Despite what politicians tell us, no man or woman is an island, even if we may not be our brother’s or sister’s keeper.
As I realized from my own unusual family background, in some senses there may be very few degrees of separation between rich and poor. My parents came from opposite ends of the social hierarchy and I have no idea how they met. Yet the current growing gulf between the two, rich and poor, is giving rise to increasingly insistent warnings of the damage that both are at risk of, however much privilege may seem to protect the well-off.”
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