Thursday, October 07, 2010

The end of universal benefits?

I watched Mr Cameron's speech yesterday with some interest. I had thought for a while that child benefit for all was strange (although Sarah and I have come to depend on it over the last few years) and I'm surprised higher rate tax payers have received it for as long as they have. They should have avoided the debacle over the aggregated salary issue, but there you go.
Anyway - it got me wondering about other universal benefits which could (presumably) be cut for those folks who make too much (or contribute to the system too much?!);
  • Healthcare - why should people who make enough to pay 40% of it back into the system expect to receive free hospital treatment?
  • Education - This is an area where a gradual erosion of support for teachers and head-teacher's rights to run their schools they way they want to has caused a defacto segregation. Those who can afford it and value education end up paying for it. Presumably by means-testing state-provided education you could free up loads of money.
All of this breaks the fundamental aspect of the welfare state that says we're all in this together - you contribute as you can and you're provided for as you have a need. For this reason the government shouldn't be looking for ways to take low-earning workers out of the tax system. The danger of building a welfare state where some provide (and are still told they need to 'shoulder their part of the cuts') and some take is that eventually the providers wind up voting for government that stops spending their taxes on things that don't benefit them - as in the US.
It may not be the case that cutting one universal benefit will lead to the others becoming means tested but the UK may have crossed the Rubicon.

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