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‘No such thing as society’: what it means for today’s welfare debate

9 April 2013

5:14 PM

9 April 2013

5:14 PM

Any Tories who might be asking ‘What Would Thatcher Do?’ about some of the political rows bubbling away today would surely wonder what her response to the current benefits debate might be. She kept well away from welfare reform, but she did have strong views on the role of government in helping people get on. Her notorious Woman’s Own interview provided us with the greatest insight, and in much greater detail than the ‘there’s no such thing as society’ line that everyone can quote. Here’s a longer extract from the transcript (which you can read in full on the Margaret Thatcher Foundation website):

‘I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand “I have a problem, it is the Government’s job to cope with it!” or “I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!” “I am homeless, the Government must house me!” and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first.’

Her words, still forceful and still as divisive as that standalone ‘no such thing’ quote, do highlight one element missing from the welfare reform debate of the past fortnight. The focus has been either on cuts aimed at driving down welfare spending, or on Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit, aimed at making work pay. But there has been little discussion of the importance of supply-side reforms which would drive the benefits bill down for the long-term. The focus of anti-poverty campaigners is very often on cash transfers to alleviate market failure of one form or another, rather than the importance of addressing the source of that pressure on low-income families. And it has been the same for politicians too.

George Osborne’s decision to link Mick Philpott to the case for welfare reform was, as Fraser explained at the weekend, deeply disappointing. The Chancellor clearly wants to show hardworking families that he’s on their side, but using six dead children was a horrible, crude way of doing this. He and other ministers could make a powerful case to ‘hardworking families’ that the time has come for taxpayers to stop paying for idleness: the idleness of politicians, not benefit claimants. The housing benefit bill has been set on an unaffordable trajectory, not because people have been getting lazier, but because for years politicians have been too lazy to ensure enough homes are built.


There is a strong small-state case to be made for supply-side reforms like liberalisation of planning laws. Why should taxpayers subsidise governments to oversee restrictive planning systems and to lack political will to build enough affordable homes? Nimbys may dislike the view from their window changing when a new housing development appears, but there are many, many more fiscal nimbys who would hate the idea of a government using their money to paper over the cracks with benefit payments rather than hacking away at the cost of living.

Osborne is often hailed as a great political strategist. He loves playing games with the Opposition. And he could do so with Labour: they failed to build enough roofs when the sun was shining. There was not one year of Labour’s 13 in government when the number of new homes reached the 250,000 that economists estimate the country needs. In those days of easy credit, 219,070 in 2006/07 was the closest Labour got. Jon Cruddas, now the party’s policy review chief, argued in the same year that his own government’s failure to build sufficient affordable housing was pushing demand to ‘crisis’ point.

Instead of creating a functioning housing market, the Labour government relied increasingly on housing benefit to top up unaffordable rents with the result that the bill now stands at £23bn. House prices have outstripped wages and inflation. Families continue to hang on by their fingertips, reliant on welfare payments rather than being able to make their own way without the state. Government has got in the way of people affording to live their own lives.

The effect of pressure on the public finances and of continuing undersupply of housing is like the effect of pressure on both sides of the human digestive tract: it causes someone to vomit. The system can’t cope with both for ever, and will at some point go into spasm, which it has done. Labour had the opportunity to remove that pressure by focusing on the supply-side problems in the housing market before the housing benefit bill reached such a height that it had to be cut. The party didn’t take that opportunity and only made some half-hearted noises about the need to cut the bill in late 2009. This crisis wasn’t inevitable.

What would Thatcher do? Chances are she wouldn’t be quite so worried about upsetting the National Trust as many Tories are today. But her Woman’s Own interview is clear that she believed the state should let people get on with their own lives, not interfere like an annoying mother-in-law at every stage. Failing to build enough homes forces government to get involved in just that way, creating a problem that it then has to cope with through cash transfers. The government has had to do what Labour knew it would have to do too: it is cutting the housing benefit bill. But it could also be bold about doing what it really, really needs to do: creating a planning system that allows enough homes to be built each year for it to get out of people’s lives and leave them to thrive in what Thatcher called the ‘living tapestry’.

P.S. A forceful critique of the current poverty debate, for those who are really interested, comes from the IEA’s excellent paper by Kristian Niemietz, ‘Redefining the Poverty Debate’. It doesn’t make particularly comfortable reading, and rejects the current obsession with cash transfers for a focus on driving down the cost of living.

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Show comments
  • An observer

    Some of the comments below show such ignorance and bias.. there’s no such thing as society right, so then there’s no such thing as rules and laws, nor government officials, politicians or delegates, prime ministers or chancellors (which incidentally might save some money for our floundering economy). If the people supposedly in charge can’t get it right and make sure there is available work and housing to support the masses then how do you expect the little man to cope? The fact is the old witch’s statements are oversimplified and lacking in truth. “I have a problem, it is the government’s job to MAKE SURE IT’S POSSIBLE FOR ME TO COPE WITH IT MYSELF” is much more accurate. How exactly do you expect people to solve their own problems if they have absolutely no means to do so?

    You can make it sound however you like, claiming it’s all pragmatics, but you have to apply that both ways, because society supports those at the top, so it should also support those at the bottom. How would old Maggie keep herself alive without the farmers that grew the food she ate? Do you think she’d ever stoop down to plant the seed to grow the orange tree? No, she’d rather trick an immigrant pauper into underpaid labour. Understand this, if we set up these systems and regimes to organise ourselves into a society, you can no longer act like we are simply and solely individuals, we are also a far larger community – society.

    The state and society, as executives and workers. The former responsible for organising and arranging the latter to create a productive coexistence for all involved. Society is the cogs and gears, the fuel and machinery, while the state is the control systems that should make the machine produce the desired results.

    What her words state is if someone can’t deal with their problem due to the lack of means, she doesn’t want to help, she’d rather leave them to rot. At a time like now with excessively high levels of unemployment and extremely lacking job opportunities, how would an empoverished person who has been seeking stable work for months sustain themselves and potentially their family without welfare? She is effectively choosing who she wants to be included as part of society, who she wants to receive the benefits that society brings and who she wants to exclude.

    This article talks about the previous Labour government’s inability to manage the housing market through property construction and planning. I doubt that the author realises that an enormous contribution to the problem was Thatcher’s mass-sale of council-owned public housing and subsequent capture of the revenues from these sales directly into the treasury to reduce taxes for the wealthy, rather than back into local authority funding for new housing.

    Many of the tenants who purchased their council homes also suddenly found employment an issue due to Thatcher’s closing down of many industries in the country. Interest rates skyrocketed and the new stakeholders of former council houses found themselves jobless, homeless and at the mercy of private landlords. Their houses reposessed and sold to private, profit-seeking landlords, who then had free rein to amplify rental charges for their tenants due to Thatcher’s repeal of the rent and housing acts, removing all rent controls and security for tenants, leaving the taxpayers having to fund massive housing benefits for the unemployed (more profiteering opportunity for private landlords!).

    The problem really is that Thatcher pushed people to think only of themselves, pinch every penny, at anybody else’s expense as long as you yourself make the maximum profit. Now think what effect that has on society, where bank officials manipulate what few rules remain after Thatcher’s deregulation scheme, and make excessive self-appointed bonuses freely (AHEM-> So Thatcher thought it was great to facilitate executives getting even richer for no extra work while people with nothing should receive nothing, regardless of their efforts.

    Maggie Thatcher and Ayn Rand hand in hand at Satan’s doorstep, maybe Richard III (the fictitious embodiment) will be waiting there to greet them.

    Has anybody noticed the international condemnation that the current CONSERVATIVE government has received regarding it’s austerity measures? I wonder if that has anything to do with the economy-crippling strategies involved which include things like the shutting down of government-run factories that employed disabled individuals, as well as cutting expenditure in areas that would fuel growth. It’s like trying to run a car on fumes, it’ll only go a little way before it grinds to a halt. It sure didn’t help either that so much of our production and manufacture industries were shipped abroad, to make way for the UK becoming a service industry. The effect of which both increased our susceptibility to global economic changes (chaos) whilst also reducing our ability to cope through growth and export. So again, this crisis finds roots in Thatcherism.

    So here we are, 2013, and things just keep double-triple-quadruple-dipping? Has it really been 5 years? There’s a huge deficit and you bet all that money is sitting in off-shore accounts. That amount of money sucked out of our enocomy.. must be far too hot to spend.. so the greedy manipulators sit tight on it, keeping the economy locked firmly in place.

    Shame the most recent Labour government really lost all sight of true socialist agenda. Their first task should have been to reverse all the damage old Maggie did by removing the rules on banking. Had they done so the economic landscape in the UK would be a vastly different place. Instead, they, as with the current Conservative government, chose to apply short-term plans, plasters, where they should have been fixing the root of the problem. The really sad part is when their plans are shown to not be working yet they keep pushing them to the bitter end (hello economic status downgrades).

    There are so many things that were ideologically wrong with the witch’s perspective on the world, she was short-sighted, narrow-minded, conceited and self-involved. People like her should never be allowed power in a society, where she is only concerned with pampering herself and the few in luxury, rather than facilitating the many to simply survive. All of those ‘virtues’ she posessed, are virtues for society if used to the right ends (with proper regulation), by a responsible leader; but used to selfish ends, serving only those at the top; for a political leader, for our society, they are more like vices.

    She led the world astray and that is certainly historically, as far as religion is concerned, the Devil’s work.

    I am aware that I mention things only very loosely related to this article, but if you broaden your perspective a bit you can see just how widely she impacted the economic world, how many volumes her statements about society speak, and thus why it was in effect, nothing but a terrible impact.

    Imo down with capitalism. Replace with capped credit rating and rationed daily/weekly allowances earnt via accredited contribution towards society. That kind of change might take 100 years (and a few technological advances), but only so long because it’ll be very difficult to convince so many people who, like Thatcher, have their own vested interests to look after by keeping the wealth divide as large as possible.

    • Suzane Mart

      ITS UR COMMENT ??????

  • Eaglet2

    “George Osborne’s decision to link Mick Philpott to the case for welfare reform was…deeply disappointing.”

    George Osborne didn’t. It was the reporter who did.

    I’m no great fan of Osborne, but if you look carefully at the video snippet of the interview that you see online GO actually unpacks (in pretty uncontroversial terms) the question the reporter gives him, which does intertwine the issues. The question was then edited out – and hey presto the headline is “George Osborne conflates Philpotts & benefit scroungers.”

    Pernicious reporting at its worst – and you would expect an experienced journalist like Fraser to spot the stitch-up, rather than join in the chorus of disapproval. I’m guessing G. O. is pretty unhappy at the way this was reported but decided to take it on the chin rather than inflame this very sad story by defending himself.

  • Daniel Maris

    Maybe the Thatcher obsequies will prove cathartic. I can’t think any serious analysis of our politics and society leads us to solutions to our problems that are of a Thatcherite nature. There are no assets left to sell. Free enterprise isn’t delivering employment and social stability. Council housing is under such pressure that the current Tories, contra MT, are looking to increase controls on the way people use their housing (the bedroom tax).

    • rubyduck

      Danny Maris “I can’t think any serious analysis of our politics and society leads us
      to solutions to our problems that are of a Thatcherite nature”


      I can’t think of any serious analysis of anything that doesn’t lead to that.

      • Daniel Maris

        Yes, but an extra dose of free market principles, comparing 1978 and 2013, has not delivered a huge increase in self-reliance. I think what one has is in fact just a great gulf between the sizeable minority who are depenedent on the state and the rest of society, composed of those who live in a state of ever increasing economic insecurity and those who are snaffling all of society’s resources, like the £400,000 a year pensioners from the world of finance (that’s a minimum of course – they’ll have all sorts of investment packages on top).

        The free labour market, leading to the huge increase in mass immigration and consequent population growth has been particularly damaging to the UK.

    • OldLb

      Unfortunately, as you say there are no solutions.

      What’s worrying is that people aren’t aware of the core problems, because its been hidden.

      7,000 bn of state debts for example.

  • Daniel Maris

    Incredible how often in the Spectator you have articles discussing housing shortage (or pressure on schools, transport and hospitals) without reference to population growth or its cause, mass immigration. Why?

  • HJ777

    Isabel Hardman misses the point about Margaret Thatcher’s statement that “there is no such thing as society”. That point is that it is literally true. ‘Society’ is an abstract concept and only real people – individuals – can actually do anything.

    That is the point she was making. If we all sat around waiting for ‘society’ to feed us, we would all starve. As she said: “no government can do anything except through people”.

    • Daniel Maris

      Perhaps you can give us a single example of a human being bringing itself up and functioning completely alone.

      • Tom Tom

        Mowgli met nice wolves but still hunted with the pack. THe point is Daniel people got tired of hearing “Society is responsible for my sins” and at least Philpott did not blame Society for making him as he was so progress has been made

        • Julian_F

          Nicely put.

      • Colonel Mustard

        That’s just the opposite to 1984. The polarised extremes are never very useful as examples when debating the relationship of the state and the individual. The problem is that the left refer to “society” when they really mean the “state” and see it as providing and controlling everything – including degrees of freedom or more usually compliance – “for the good of all”. Others, like me, see the state as nothing more than a service provider with its enforcement arms created and operated only with consent whilst we get on and live our lives.

        The problem in Britain is that the state has got too big and now must feed itself by getting bigger and exercising more and more control over peoples lives. Agenda campaign groups have moved from lobbying on the peripheral to controlling through the centre in the form of NGOs and quangos, using the intimidation of “outrage” to get their own way. Politics is now occupied by huge numbers of powerful agenda monkeys, once considered just loony minority outsiders. Apathy and intimidation work together to give these people far more power and influence than they deserve. Society has become skewed as a result.

        • telemachus

          “The problem is that the left refer to “society” when they really mean the “state” ”
          Please understand the reasonable:
          Socialism is a system of social organization based on the holding of most property in common, with actual ownership ascribed
          to the members of society.
          It is communism that has ownership ascribed to the state

          In a Utopian society wealth is redistributed so that everyone in
          society is given somewhat equal shares of the benefits derived from labor, but CRUCIALLY people can earn more if they work harder.

          • Colonel Mustard

            More tripe. See above.

          • Bernadette Bowles

            I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but human societies tend not to be Utopian. Ours is very far away! But such a state would not last more than a generation, as it ignores human nature. Some work hard and achieve a lot, others work hard but achieve less, either through ill luck or incompetence, others have a bright idea and get more than originally allotted by fair means or foul – need I go on?

            No society can function if it ignores any part of reality it doesn’t like; that is exactly the problem with most of the so-called Left. They decide how things ought to be, and fail to account for how things are. Both naive and dangerous.

        • Daniel Maris

          Well I think since the days of first states in Mesopotamia, the state has for most people been part of the warp and woof of life.

          In Britain for hundreds of years, there was a close emotional connection between state and society, often mediated by monarchy – call it patriotism if you like.

          There are exceptions, American frontiersmen, French Candian hunters, Vikings in their homesteads…where people have led lives pretty much divorced from the state. But you can’t replicate that in a highly densely populated small island with limited land resources.

          I don’t really disagree with your last para. What you might call the “bloated state” is not to be desired or encouraged and we do now see this community of interest between politicians, and the quangocracy, then linking into the lawyers, human rights activists, and various professional bodies. Also this bloatocracy has sanctioned various policies e.g. the EU disconnect in governance and mass immigration which are positively undermining our culture.

      • HJ777

        I can’t. Neither did I advocate any such thing.

        Perhaps you can give me a single example of a human being brought up by ‘society’ rather than by the actions of individual people.

    • Eddie

      Exactly. That remark ‘There is no such thing as society’ is always taken out of context to try and show Thatcher to be anti-people and uncaring, whereas in fact she was merely being realistic and pragmatic.
      She meant that there was no abstract ‘being’ called society to act like a magic wand and solve all problems – there was just the human beings who made up that society. Her view was absolutely humanist – almost atheist really, as she rejected the quasi-religion of the social-studies-degreed left.

      She actually said:

      ‘There is no such thing as society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people’


      ‘who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first’

      • Colonel Mustard

        What she was in effect describing is the diversity of the human condition the left aways bleat about but which in practice falls at the first hurdle of their drive to make “society” conform to their group think. Whereas she saw the diversity of the individual the left now see the diversity of identity groups which they attempt to force into a pecking order called “equality” by coercion and constant carping. Unfortunately for the majority they are not a recognised identity group in this pecking order.

        • telemachus

          There is no drive to group think
          Only group and individual opportunity
          The left do not believe in the scrapheap

          • Colonel Mustard

            Tripe. Group think is the very essence of the left and Leveson now one of the means to that end.

            The scrapheap is the monument to their folly of “equality” and the worship of mediocrity and stupidity in its name. You do not give the pigeon the opportunity to soar by cramming it into an identity group pigeon hole with a load of silly “political correctness” and sillier law confining it.

            “Ah, gentlemen, I don’t want to embark on bitter or harsh controversy, but I think the exalted ideal of the Socialists – a universal brotherhood, owning all things in common – is not always supported by the evidence of their practice. They put before us a creed of universal self-sacrifice. They preach it in the language of spite and envy, of hatred, and all uncharitableness. They tell us that we should dwell together in unity and comradeship. They are themselves split into twenty obscure factions, who hate and abuse each other more than they hate and abuse us. They wish to reconstruct the world. They begin by leaving out human nature.”

            “And what is society? I will tell you what society is. Translated into concrete terms, Socialistic “society” is a set of disagreeable individuals who obtained a majority for their caucus at some recent election, and whose officials in consequence would look on humanity through innumerable grills and pigeon-holes and across innumerable counters, and say to them, “Tickets, please.””

            “Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery.”

            • jack mustard

              What is society? It’s the NHS and schools, it’s the army, navy and airforce, it’s streets and bridges and motorways, it’s knowing our bins will be emptied, it’s the police and the fire brigade, it’s pensions and social security, it’s individuals and families rubbing along together and accepting they are stronger working together than relying solely on themselves.

              • Bernadette Bowles

                Her point was not that these things don’t or shouldn’t exist, but that people cannot abdicate responsibility for solving their own problems by pushing them onto a nebulous “society” which is, in fact, their neighbours. Sometimes we have problems which we cannot solve as individuals, but it is only in these cases that we should be looking for others to help us out. In many cases, we could if we tried find a solution, and if we had to actually go to our friends and neighbours personally to ask for help, we would look hard for that solution first. By putting all the responsibility onto a virtual construct, we do not have to confront our own responsibilities.

            • telemachus

              At the bottom of your diatribe is a misquote of Churchill who in fact admired those seeking the greater good of society


              The philosophy of socialism is in fact an example of natural law. This position can be made clearer by an illustration from the field of
              biology. It is a well known law in the world of plants and animals that in any organism the.entire form and structure is simply the most advantageous manner of arranging the material of which the plant or animal is composed in order to meet the difficulties with which it is surrounded. Every limb, muscle, leaf, branch, or root was developed
              because its existence was of advantage to the organism as a whole in obtaining its support from its environment. In the same way society as a whole is simply the form in which its members unite to conquer
              nature. It is a machine, an organism, a structure with which to obtain the Good desired.


              The good desired is that which is good for all

              • Colonel Mustard

                A direct quote cannot be a “misquote”.

                And stop conflating Labour with being “good”. They are not.

              • Bernadette Bowles

                No sane person can argue with the ideals of socialism. Many of the founding fathers of the movement tried hard to live by them. They believed very strongly that individuals could and should work hard, obtain a good education, endeavour to create a better and fairer world of the future in which everyone who was able to worked for the benefit of all, while those who were unable to work were cared for. Much like all parts of a plant work together in order for the whole plant to survive, grow and reproduce.

                Unfortunately the movement was hijacked long ago by those who want, not the good of all, but little empires of their own, in which they can exert control. If one leaf refused to work with another, or the roots refused to work at all, the plant would not last long. Maggie Thatcher was closer to being a genuine socialist than anyone in the Labour party has been for generations. Probably why they dislike her. Petty-minded people do not like to be shown up for what they are.

                • Fergus Pickering

                  Who were the funding fathers of Socialism. Marx? Shaw? What are their ideals? The ones that no sane person can argue with?

              • Fergus Pickering

                I don’t think you understand the theory of evolution. You espouse Lamarck, who thought giraffes grew longer necks because they wanted to. It is not a good idea to use a misunderstanding of science to shore up your sociological theories

      • Daniel Maris

        Oh come on, BS detector out. For one thing she said that families were a reality. They are no more or less a reality than society. There are millions of children today who have no connection with their father, despite sharing such a lot of DNA. She just threw that in because she wanted to have cake and eat. She wanted free market ethics with Victorian values. Sorry, you can’t have that. She should have read Sybil by Disraeli, she might have learnt something. But she was a chemist, so it’s not surprising she was the way she was – “I like people who bring me solutions, not problems”…pun intended.

        • Bernadette Bowles

          And those sad children – and often sad fathers – are a direct result of the Left’s trashing of family values, and insistence that the only good was what the individual wanted at any time. A wish to be non-judgemental has destroyed the futures of many. Though the worst of that was not yet apparent at the time of that interview, when far more children lived in their natural family.

          Though, of course, you can argue that a family is how you choose to live rather than a blood connection. Even these days, most people do live as families, whatever the physical relationship between their members.

        • Fergus Pickering

          She did read Sybil And so did I. Piss and wind mostly, Daniel.

  • The Sage

    Building more homes would not be necessary if the country had a firm grip on immigration. Of course it doesn’t (anything but), and one of the many negative by-products of this abject failure is that too many people are chasing too few places to live.
    Rather than concreting over the UK with generally ugly and poorly built “affordable” homes, better to deal with our overly porous borders and truly useless, toothless and politically correct Border Agency.

  • Smithersjones2013

    Deleted by author….(I couldn’t be bothered to finish it).

  • telemachus

    George Osborne’s decision to link Mick Philpott to the case for welfare reform was, as Fraser explained at the weekend, deeply disappointing
    Margaret would not have done that

  • Tom Tom

    How could anyone build “affordable” housing in say London with land prices so high ? Maybe banning foreigners from owning property ? I simply do not see that building houses in Regent’s Park or Hyde Park will increase supply of “affordable” houses ? What are these planning laws that restrict supply ? Some countries have Favellas, why not have shanty towns in London ? It is fatuous to suggest that Immigration can be unlimited and finite land and water supply can stretch to accommodate everyone. Maybe annexing France would solve the problem ?

  • Jules

    The housing crisis is affecting every part of life. It’s the reason many couples are only starting families later in life, it’s the reason it is now the norm for people to be living with their parents well into their 20’s and as this article says it’s responsible for the huge rise in housing benefit. Immigration is also an issue because the large rise in the population in this last decade has put an incredible strain on housing.

    Benefit claimants do not get the money, it goes straight to greedy landlords. It’s time for a mass house building programme, to provide affordable and social housing, stimulate the economy, revive the construction sector, reduce homelessness and reduce the HB bill. However it involves the Tory party taking on their own supporters, Thatcher’s doctorine of courting unpopularity as long as what you are doing is right, might be tested to destruction.

    • rubyduck

      Oh dear. Greedy landlords again.

      “living with their parents well into their 20’s”

      Who didn’t ? When was it, exactly, that every 20-yr old was able to nip out and buy themself a 3-bed semi with garage and garden ?

      Between about 2003 and 2007, probably, and we know where that ended up.

      • Bernadette Bowles

        Well, I did when I married at 21 – more than 40 years ago.

        Only providing social housing will reduce the HB bill. Developers are not interested in doing that on any scale.

    • Tom Tom

      Yes but there must be Direction of Labour or Residence Permits so people live in these houses where available and do not move where there is a housing shortage.

      • Bernadette Bowles

        Certainly the South-East is full up, with too little room, infrastructure and water for further expansion.

        But… if you force people to move where there is plenty of space and available housing, that is where there are very few jobs. That’s why there’s space.

        The answer is not Soviet-style residence permits, nor building willy-nilly on good farmland, but tax breaks for employers moving to areas of high unemployment and employing an agreed number of local unemployed workers.

        • Newsbot9

          Ah yes, minimum wage requiring extensive state top-ups and housing benefits on an ongoing basis. And of course Jobcenters will be able to force people to move to take them. Social cleansing, rather than build houses you’ll move them to areas where rents still rise well above wages…

          There is not “plenty of space” anywhere, we’ve not had enough house building here in THIRTY YEARS.

    • Newsbot9

      Indeed. And a tax on empty property and brownfield land, to encourage usage.

      Plus rent caps…

  • LB

    Instead of creating a functioning housing market, the Labour government relied increasingly on housing benefit to top up unaffordable rents with the result that the bill now stands at £23bn. House prices have outstripped wages and inflation. Families continue to hang on by their fingertips, reliant on welfare payments rather than being able to make their own way without the state. Government has got in the way of people affording to live their own lives.


    That’s because it allowed demand to rocket by unfettered migration.

    Then there is stamp duty. Rather than move to a suitable sized home, buy as big as possible to start and stay for as long as possible. It’s the correct thing to do because of stamp duty.

  • LB

    George Osborne’s decision to link Mick Philpott to the case for welfare reform was, as Fraser explained at the weekend, deeply disappointing.


    No it wasn’t. Its time there was a discussion on the matter.

    What’s worrying is that for the 4 million that has been bunged Philpott’s way over the last 20 years, he’s cheap.

    The reason he’s cheap is that if you compare Philpott’s 20 people against 10 single mother’s each with one child, also 20, Philpott took less money.

    FB is correct.

    Abolish all subsidies.

    Next, we have to abolish the state pension and replace it with a compulsory funded system, with a guarantee for the minimum if and only if your money runs out.

    • Andy

      I totally agree with you. It is high time we had this debate. Hardman doesn’t even seem to understand what Osborne actually said. Another Speci writer who seems like a card carrying member of the Labour Party.

      • LB

        The major problem is that Philpott and co have been paid out of people’s pension contributions.

        So the ONS puts the pension debt at 5,300 bn. Another 1,200 for borrowing, 400 for PFI. Nuclear decomissioning, bank losses, … Its around 7,000 bn rising above inflation.

        Now the total wealth of the UK is 7,000 bn.

        Hence its screwed. The poor are going to be screwed the most. They have been forced to rely on the state for their pensions, because the state took the money in taxes.

        Now, the state can’t pay the promises, so they are going to be screwed completely.

        So what do poltiicians say about it? Very little. They blame people for ‘living too long’. Now the agenda is the paid for pensions, are welfare. Welfare because its optional. Means test it etc.

        • Daniel Maris


          Assuming you are right (and no, you’re not) were we ever to get to that position we would simply go bankrupt and start again: we’d still have our railways, motorways, power stations, wind turbines, something like 40 million commercial and private vehicles, factories, telecoms network, 35 million buildings, north sea oil and gas and huge areas of agricultural land, together with the vast store of human knowledge we possess.

          Other countries e.g. in Latin America have gone bankrupt before now and are now doing OK. It’s not the end of the world. You’re making it sound like it’s Armageddon.

          • OldLb

            Why are you right on the debt, and I’m wrong?

            Here’s the government’s own numbers.


            5,010 bn 2 years ago – now 5,300 bn. [It’s also an underestimate]

            You’re also being disingenuous about the use of the word ‘we’.

            It’s the state that is bankrupt. It’s not farmers owning land, people owning cars or houses that are bankrupt.

            You’re position as you’ve posted is that the state owns it all. It doesn’t.

            On the bankruptcy. Argentina isn’t doing as well as you think. However, it did steal all private and company pensions. Do you think that’s a good solution?

            Greece isn’t doing too well. Even with the help of a fairy godfather, Germany, there are 60% cuts to pensions, and that’s just the start.


            So given that 30% of the UK have bugger all savings, do you think they will be able to cope with a pension of 2,000 pounds a year?

          • OldLb

            Assuming you are right (and no, you’re not)


            OK, My number is 7,000 bn.

            What’s your number for the state debts?

            After all, if you know I’m wrong, you must have a figure that’s different.

            Post it, and the evidence that backs it up.

    • Tom Tom

      I like the idea of a funded system because I trust the Government so much. I know they would never cheat, never debase the currency, and they would never tax pension contributions nor tax pension dividends. It is good to live in a country with such Honest and Upright Government whose intentions are noble and virtuous

      • OldLb

        There’s a solution to the funded. In the act establishing it, make sure that changes such as direct and indirect taxation, or confiscation of assets can only be allowed after a referenda and never retrospectively.

    • dalai guevara

      Fraser was of course bang on the money.

      When Peter Kay coined the phrase ‘Thatcher’s Britain’, what do you think he meant? Why does it make everyone north of Watford smile, and you cringe?

  • Hookeslaw

    Its the wimps in the tory backbenches that frustrate planning reform.

    • Tom Tom

      Really ? HS2 is fine with voters then ?

      • Fergus Pickering

        The only people who care deeply about HS2 are those whose houses are nearby. The same is true of the siting of motorways and airports..

        • Tom Tom

          Which is why planning is L O C A L

          • OldLb

            And corrupt.

          • Bernadette Bowles

            Correction, that is why planning should be local. It isn’t – any developer who doesn’t feel a local council is jumping quick enough to do his bidding appeals to the Planning Inspectorate, whose remit is to force everything through regardless of the reasons for opposition.

        • Bernadette Bowles

          No. I want the expensive white elephant binned. I do not live in the path of HS2; but I value our woodlands, fields and wildlife. I also have seen figures that show a very low return on investment even if it comes in on budget and is used as much as the highest projections suggest. Since neither will be the case, it will be half a century before any return is seen, if it ever is.

  • FB

    Kristian’s paper for the IEA is fantastic and I recommend it to anyone interested in this debate. Free trade, abolishing the CAP, reducing the green taxes that drive up energy bills and liberating the planning system would do wonders not only for those in poverty but for everyone whose incomes are increasingly squeezed.

    A rather older, but still highly relevant IEA paper on planning is Mark Pennington’s ‘Liberating the land’:

    If we are to fulfill Thatcher’s vision of a property owning democracy then serious planning liberalisation is needed.

    • Noa

      Ultimately though you are advocating a return to an already discredited Keynesian, construction based Boom and Bust based on government borrowing. A policy which has largely contributed to the current, growing Debt.
      As to Free trade, abolition of the CAP and green taxes these are policies advocated only by UKIP, as they require the UK’s departure from the EU to give them effect.

      It’s good to see the Spectator is seeing the light at last.

    • Tom Tom

      Houston Texas had no planning regulations at one time and you could build a refinery next to a school. Houses did not need guttering. You had no need for fire retardants on wooden roofing components. Maybe it would work in London – it would help site nuclear waste dumps and refuse incinerators, and HS2.

      • Bernadette Bowles

        I would vote for a nuclear dump next to the Houses of Parliament!

  • Austin Barry

    “But it could also be bold about doing what it really, really needs to do: creating a planning system that allows enough homes to be built each year for it to get out of people’s lives ……..’”

    To be fair, how can the government anticipate how many homes are required when it hasn’t a clue how many people, in the age of mass immigration, will require them?


    • Hookeslaw

      Plus the govt does not pick up the phone and order homes.
      there house builders have land available for housing of the demand is there.

      • Tom Tom

        Impose CGT on the imputed value of the land bank. after all Executors have to pay 100% rising to 150% Council Tax on Estate properties

    • Noa

      One 5 bedroom house in Kensington per non English speaking mother and 12 children seems to be the norm.

      In the provinces a higher bedroom occupancy rate is often encouraged to provide economies of scale and additional welfare benefit income for the absent father.

    • Colonel Mustard

      They don’t understand the differences between planning, change and reaction. Change is running rampant as a good of itself courtesy of nincompoops like Clegg. There is no proper planning, the change is too fast and too uncontrolled and the reaction is usually panic when it’s too late.

      • telemachus

        This should be a financial expedient
        Build for growth

        • Colonel Mustard

          Rubbish. You can’t build without money and you shouldn’t build without planning. Building should grow as community develops naturally not as a knee jerk reaction to the imminent arrival of 2 million foreigners.

          • telemachus

            Build for the sake of our flatlining economy

            • Colonel Mustard

              Now you sound even more like the Labour parrot we know you to be.

        • Bernadette Bowles

          People need to eat. World population is growing. Many third world countries are becoming more prosperous, and their people will hope to eat better than at present, so will export less. Crop yields are down in many places; crops are being grown on marginal land, soils are becoming exhausted after years of artificial fertilisers, weather over many major growing areas is becoming unpredictable. Water shortages are already occurring in many places, and will get worse, futher reducing crop yields. Our economy is unable to afford excessive imports, so as food prices rise on world markets, we must grow more of our own food. If we persist in building houses and windmills on fertile land, our grandchildren will starve. The article repeats the lie that keeps appearing in the press, that it’s all about the views. Some are certainly worth preserving, but the reality is much more vital.