Was it conceived as a necessary bulwark to a moribund, failing capitalism, or is it an active creator of destitution, or something to be cherished? Guardian readers discuss

Comforting as it may be to think otherwise, the welfare state was not conceived as a gesture of munificent goodwill to the indigent, or even as a system from which we all benefit, but as a necessary bulwark to a moribund, failing capitalism (The ‘welfare state’ should be something to be proud of, 1 November). It was a preventive measure against revolution and rooted in the politics of the day. Well-educated, well-housed and healthy workers were likely to be not only less radical but also more productive. Supported by policies aimed at maintaining full employment, the social security system was mainly intended to bridge the short gaps between periods of employment, its costs met by a system of national insurance.

There was also a measure of synergy in the system. Educated and secure workers were less likely to be unhealthy. They were even likely to be more thoughtful, knowledgeable consumers, wary of the wiles of the marketplace and its purveyors of snake oil. So those great props of the welfare state –...


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