As we retreat to safe TV, home and garden, war provides the news
backdrop to our lives. There hasn’t been a period of peace in the
world since nuclear bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Now there are fears (and, in some quarters, hopes) of a new war
with Iraq, with the usual fierce talk from non-combatants of
“sending in the boys” and “taking out Saddam”. The new “war on
terror” looks like a frightening rerun of past preoccupations with
“the enemy within” which could run for the foreseeable future.
Yet, although war never goes away, its relationship with welfare
is rarely discussed. But it is a close and important one. There
would have been no UK welfare state without the second world war.
The Beveridge Report and the battle of El Alamein, the first
significant allied victory, were reported in the same week. A
comprehensive system of social security, free at the point of
delivery, was to be the reward for victory, just as “homes fit for
heroes” were promised after the Great War. But this time the
struggle against a terrible tyranny gave the goal moral and
political force. The war showed that state services could work.
It was the second world war that advanced the mass use of
antibiotics, which could defeat TB and other diseases of poverty.
They provided the most powerful tool of the new NHS. But it was
also world wars that led to the pre-eminence of regulatory
War can help powerful people who run faltering economies. Upping
military expenditure has a way of creating wealth for them. But,
for everyone else, it means the production of welfare needs through
death, disease, poverty, loss and homelessness. What defined 20th
century war was that, for the first time, there were far more
civilian than military casualties. The journal, Disability &
Society, is planning a special issue focusing on war, conflict and
disability to explore these issues.
Another of the consequences of war is the creation of refugees.
Reframed as “asylum seekers” and “economic migrants”, their
regulation now dominates orthodox social policy discourse. They
have taken over from lone parents and “the underclass” as the
pariahs of western welfare states. They are denied the most basic
entitlements. Many welfare workers feel shamed by the role they are
expected to play in policing them. Now the plan is to segregate
refugees in the spirit of the Victorian poor law. What must it take
before, safe in our own armchairs, we again allow victims of war
access to the benefits of welfare in the founding spirit of the