For decades we have lived through an era when the dominant ideology has been everyone needs to look out for themselves and the state shouldn't do much, if anything to help them. It is now becoming obvious to all, even Theresa May that there are some areas of life where that view is simply unsustainable. People who live in a community need to look out for each other, spread the risks and also spread the rewards to a reasonable degree.
Take housing for example. For many years after the war governments from all sides of the political spectrum recognised that we were all in it together and society had to try and provide decent homes that were affordable for all. All that got ditched by Margaret Thatcher who not only stopped building council homes but sold them off on the cheap without building replacements. After 30 years of relying on the free market to house people and to create a home owning democracy, what have we ended up with?
1. A severe shortage of homes to buy that are remotely in the price ranges of young people starting out or the elderly needing specialist facilities and care. House builders have put up 4 and 5 bedroom executive homes across the green belt. Young people have been shut out of the market. There was a stage when 66% of young people could afford to buy their own home. That is now down by more than half to significantly below 33%. Prices are 6 to 10 times the value of local salaries for young people. Uncontrolled and unguided free markets have destroyed the home own democracy.
2. A drastic shortage of council homes. Apparently if you don't let councils build for 30 years and keep selling off their stock they run out of properties to let to those in need. Who would have thought it?
3. A dependency on a private rented sector where six month tenancies are the norm. We have families being brought up with no certainty that their kids can stay in their school for longer than a few short months and no idea where they'll be able to afford to live if the landlord's agent kicks them out so that they can raise the rents. Not my idea of a secure and stable community.
The problems with this approach are now so glaringly obvious that even Theresa May has decided that she is prepared to allow councils to borrow to build. Too little. Too late. Councils are still to be constrained by her insistence they must sell them off after 10 years (thus making any mortgage style loan near impossible to get). Nevertheless, I suppose we must be grateful for small mercies.
By comparison when it comes to care there is no mercy at all. Official Conservative policy remains firmly embedded in the idea of individuality. If you get dementia then they clearly think that is your own fault and you must pay. It is not entirely clear how much you will pay as the policy changes by the day. You are probably going to have to spend your entire savings and all the value of any home you own on care until your relatives are left to inherit the last £100,000. So loyal children who spend hours looking after you in your old age but can't cope without extra professional help will lose the vast majority of what you hoped to leave them. Your neighbours may be more fortunate. If their Granny doesn't need looking after and she drops dead of a heart attack then they get to inherit the whole pile.
That's how clumsy and crude May's "care" policy is. A sensible approach would be to share the burden and impose the necessary level of progressive taxation on inheritance to deal with care costs in a civilised way and to even out the burden. Instead Conservative policy is firmly rooted in mean spirited individualism of the worst kind. We all know that care bills have to be paid for. But we don't have to run a bad luck lottery which leaves the elderly who lose feeling desperately guilty about the cost every time they need help to get dressed, get cleaned up or get fed.
This is bad enough. But there are another set of victims who don't even seem to be appearing on the radar in this election campaign. If you have a disability then any decent society would assess your needs and then try and find a way of delivering a reasonable standard of living supported by the taxes of others. The UK's disability policy has become aggressive not supportive. You get checked by assessors who have been told that they must get as many people as possible off the disability register as soon as possible. People in need are left feeling desperately worried and insecure for weeks before an assessment and then find themselves being told by people who are not doctors and have no real expertise in their condition that they should jolly well stop moaning and get themselves back to work because the taxpayer has lost patience with them.
We have inflicted almost ten years of austerity policies like this on the poorest in our societies as a direct result of allowing a very small group of bankers to be free from proper government supervision and management. Reckless selfish gamblers placed bets on the financial markets that were three times the size of the entire world economy and then had to be bailed out by taxpayers when the markets went wrong and our entire economic system teetered on the edge of bankruptcy as a result of their selfishness. The only thing that saved the day was government intervention.
Unfortunately the price of that intervention was not the introduction of sensible taxes and controls on huge financial transactions. The price was year after year of real term cuts to public services. School children are now facing cuts of around £400 per head in their education budgets in a desperate attempt to balance government budgets that have been in deficit for every year since the crash. Incredibly the Bank of England has provided over £400,000,000,000 of fresh money to prop up the banks that created the crash and not one single effective policy has been put in place to prevent a repeat. Shed loads of money have been wasted on propping up banks whilst the rest of us have been told we must tighten our belts and be responsible.
So we have a choice in a few weeks time. We can opt for individualism or we can accept that we live in a community and communities look out for each other. This is not a plea for some drive to establish a socialist utopia. It is a plea for common sense. Use markets to do what they are good at. Use the government to do what it should do. Because if you don't then it is pretty clear what lies in wait.
Hidden behind Theresa May, kept in a cupboard with a damp towel on their heads, there are some very aggressive Tories who make her look mild and reasonable. If she wins then the day after the election they will not slink away saying she now has a mandate to be kind and gentle. They will come after her with extreme determination to get rid of every half way reasonable policy she has floated and replace it with a drive to dump the last remnants of a functioning welfare state.
And the place they will most wish to start? The idea that we can provide health care for everyone based on need. Don't expect them to abolish the NHS. Just expect them to make it such a bad service that only the very poorest wish to rely on it. The better off in society will have to shell out for private health insurance and spend their days worrying about what happens if they get a long term illness and have to throw themselves on the mercies of the last remains of a desperately stretched service deemed good enough for the poor and feckless masses. The poor can go hang.
We need to tell these people at the ballot box one very simple message. There is such a thing as a society. And we want to live in a decent one.