1 Critical Soc. Pol'y 5 (1981)

handle is hein.journals/critsplcy1 and id is 1 raw text is: 


Hugh Kerr


This article reviews the record of the Labour Government in social policy
1974-79. It points out that many of the cutbacks in public expenditure and
restructuring of welfare services now being pursued by the Tories began
under the last Labour Government. It also offers a critique of the Fabian
analysis of welfare by critically reviewing Labour and Equality by Peter
Townsend and Nicholas Bosanquet. It points out the naive idealism of the
Fabian approach to social policy under Labour and indicates an alternative
socialist conception of welfare.

As we are daily informed of further horrific aspects of the Tory Government's
attacks on the Welfare State, it is tempting to look back with nostalgia on the last
Labour Government as some golden age. Or indeed to look forward to the next
Labour Government to fully restore the Welfare State. This would be a mistake,
however. Not only is there considerable evidence that the erosion of social welfare
now taking place began under the last Labour Government, but there is no evidence
that the next Labour Government can or will fully restore the cuts. (Indeed, it is
worth noting that Neil Kinnock, Labour's Shadow Education spokesman, was
recently honest enough to admit this and has threatened to resign if the Labour Party
doesn't accept this.) It is my contention that a close examination of the record
of the last Labour Government will suggest that the Social Democratic dream of
establishing a 'Welfare Society', a 'Sweden' in Britain, is not only doomed but dead.
If true, then, this raises fundamental doubts about the Fabian ideology which has
been the dominant force in the post-war Labour Party (and in mainstream social
administration). It is ironic therefore that the chief source of evidence on the record
of the 1974-79 Labour Government should be the Fabians themselves in Labour and
Equality edited by Nick Bosanquet and Peter Townsend. I This recently published
book studies the record of the Labour Government in some considerable detail. In
16 chapters, it savagely indites Labour's record in almost every area. I shall review
this evidence, plus a number of other sources to study Labour's record and draw
some general conclusions about the future of social welfare and Fabian ideology.

The economic context

The British economy experienced a slow but steady expansion in the post war period,
but by the 1960s this expansion began to slow down due to a number of factors.
Most important of these was the decline in profits of capitalism internationally and
in particular in Britain. This led the Labour Government of 1964-70 to attempt to
begin restructuring British capitalism to increase profitability through a policy of
State intervention in industry. This policy, however, was not totally successful
because (a) the intervention was half-hearted and (b) the political strength of the

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