Martin Kettle (Stop hoping for the worst – give Duncan Smith a chance, 12 November) misrepresented Beveridge to justify IDS’s savage attack on welfare rights. Beveridge did indeed say social insurance should be the “minimum income needed for subsistence”, but he wrote in his report that the minimum was a “matter of judgment; estimates on this point change with time, and generally, in a progressive community change upwards”. Instead unemployment benefit has become increasingly devalued: if it had increased in line with earnings since 1979 it would be worth £110 per week today not a measly £65, one of the lowest rates in Europe. Beveridge was also fundamentally opposed to means-testing, and stated “unemployment benefit will continue at the same rate without means test so long as unemployment lasts”.
At a time when there are 2.5 million people out of work and less than half a million vacancies, that principle has never been more important to avoid the demonising and bullying that dominates the welfare debate and IDS’s proposals for workfare. The underlying Beveridge principle was to provide people with social insurance to give them dignity and an income when out of work or incapacitated. It is shameful that Labour has abandoned that principle too, but we must fight to restore it.
Labour Representation Committee