There was a very interesting little passage on the BBC’s ‘Sunday Politics’ show yesterday. Chaired by Andrew Neil, the show’s ‘Head to Head’ segment featured Mehdi Hasan, political editor of the UK Huffington Post in a debate on welfare spending with Tory MP and Health Select Committee member Chris Skidmore.
The debate wasn’t on health but, as is often the way with these things, it was touched on in an aside that was even more revealing than the debate on the main topic.
That Chris Skidmore should be arguing for cuts and caps to the welfare state is unsurprising. He is a member of the Free Enterprise Group and co-authored ‘Britannia Unchained’, a ludicrous book that lies freely about the facts in order to smear British workers that “[o]nce they enter the workplace, the British are among the worst idlers in the world. We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor‘.” Britons actually work the longest hours in Europe, retire later than people in most other European countries, especially as retirement age rises to 68, and have the fewest national holidays and the lowest statutory leave in the European Union. I wrote an article on this poor excuse for a book back in August. in case you want to read more on it.
But the most interesting passage in the discussion was when they started to talk about universal welfare benefits – the idea that some benefits are available to everyone, regardless of income. Skidmore was arguing for more means-testing (assessing people’s income and only paying the benefit if it’s below a certain threshold), and Hasan responded that means-testing actually costs more while helping fewer people. But for anyone who, like me, is passionate about the NHS, the conversation took a very interesting turn. Here it is, with just a couple of omissions for brevity that don’t affect the meaning of what’s said:
Hasan: Means-testing benefits lowers the rate of uptake, it’s much more complex bureaucratically, it costs more to actually administer means-testing benefits than universal benefits, and it leads to higher rates of fraud.
Skidmore: In the longer term, with an ageing population, it will not cost more. It is not fair..for an MP on a final-salary pension of £65k to be claiming a winter fuel allowance or receiving a free TV licence. I don’t believe that’s fair, do you?
H: On that basis, you shouldn’t get free healthcare. We have a universal welfare state..
S (interjecting): Yes, exactly.
Skidmore then backtracks, denying Hasan’s accusation that the Conservatives want to introduce a US-style healthcare model and repeating the Tories spurious claim – for which they had already been reprimanded by the head of the UK statistics authority – that they have increased NHS spending.
But the truth had already slipped out. Hearing the unexpected, hypothetical supposition that we shouldn’t get free healthcare if other benefits need to be means-tested, Skidmore’s instinctive response is:
They say the truth will out. No matter how hard the Tories try to pose as being pro-NHS and on the side of the ‘strivers’, the longer these malignant people are in power, the more often the truth slips out – just like last week with David Cameron’s freudian ‘We are making more money for the rich“.
We need to make sure people hear when it happens.