from David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: Six Giants

William Beveridge

June 24.  In the matter of identifying the aftermath of the pandemic, history has to be used with caution.

Peter Hennessy (see June 23) knows well that the Beveridge revolution was initially resisted by the war-time Conservatives.  Churchill believed that planning for a post-war future was simply a distraction in the middle of a conflict whose outcome was far from certain.  His attempt to bury the Beveridge report was defeated by its dry-as-dust author, who proved surprisingly adept at deploying the media of his time to publicise his document.  The report was full of practical detail, but by couching his target in terms of the five ‘giants’, Beveridge tapped into the moral subconscious of the British people, engaging with a tradition of social justice that stretched all the way back to Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.

The report became a best-seller.  My dog-eared copy once belonged to my father, who used it in the latter days of the war to lecture to his fellow sailors with whom he was serving in a naval outpost in Sierra Leone.   It was central to Labour’s landslide victory in 1945 (though Beveridge was himself a Liberal), and in turn the scale of that majority was critical to overcoming the opposition to many of the proposals, ranging from the Tory Party to a host of vested interests.

Starmer’s Labour Party will need another landslide, and another document to energise the electorate.  The Beveridge Plan offers only a partial model.  Lakes of ink have since been spilled over its recommendations.  Eligibility for relief was centred on the outdated figure of the male breadwinner with his dependants.  The ‘National’ in the NHS and other reforms reflected a passion to centralise every form of welfare, in most cases denying effective local participation in the provision of services.  There was no engagement with the environment by a Labour Government which spent its time in office burning every ton of coal it could get out of the ground.

There is a case for simply taking on the same giants and this time slaying them properly.  Anne Chappel has directed me to a recent article which points out in convincing detail how Beveridge’s agenda is still yet to be met.*  We still have work to do with poverty, health, education, unemployment and housing.  Nonetheless, three quarters of a century on, it is perhaps time to update the mission.

I would slightly re-shape Hennessy’s agenda.  The giant of Squalor remains a task in the form of social housing.  Idleness remains a task in the form of the vast numbers, barely visible in 1945, beyond working age and needing affordable social care as they grow old.  Ignorance remains a task in terms of acquiring the skills to combat and exploit technical change, including artificial intelligence.  Want has worsened since 2010, a permanent stain on the record of successive Conservative administrations.  There is a new giant of Pollution to be attacked.  And there is a new giant of Power, collected at the centre since the war by both parties, and now needing to be distributed to the localities in which the new sense of community is now flourishing, and more effectively devolved to the nations, where Labour urgently has to relaunch itself.

Above all we must revive and give purpose to the closing paragraph of the Beveridge Report: 

Freedom from want cannot be forced on a democracy or given to a democracy. It must be won by them. Winning it needs courage and faith and a sense of national unity : courage to face facts and difficulties and overcome them ; faith in our future and in the ideals of fair-play and freedom for which century after century our forefathers were prepared to die ; a sense of national unity overriding the interests of any class or section. The Plan for Social Security in this Report is submitted by one who believes that in this supreme crisis the British people will not be found wanting, of courage and faith and national unity, of material and spiritual power to play their part in achieving both social security and the victory of justice among nations upon which security depends.(para 461)

* https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/oct/10/beveridge-five-evils-welfare-state

from Steph in London,UK: homelessness …

May 8. The government (this or the last one) had started to look at homelessness and said it would take till 2025 to get people off the streets. Post or mid-Covid19 there is a consensus that most if not all homeless people have somewhere to sleep every night … I wonder if it’s true and if it is how can we transfer this practice to being a normal state of affairs post post Covid? Hopefully the mindset has changed and the powers that be will be able to see their way to look positively at solutions instead of presenting the usual ‘Yes but” scenarios.

We’ve really opened the box on deprivation. Good schools  know their cohort of pupils and they work to raise their attainment – extra support, mentoring,  the best teachers encouraging and working with parents to try to  ‘level’ the playing field. Today those same schools are delivering free school meals to their vulnerable pupils and checking weekly on the pupils and their work personally. This, of course is easier in areas where schools catchment areas are small. I wonder how rural schools with much wider catchment areas are organising this vital service to the pupils.

The lack of computers  and tablets in homes automatically puts students at a huge disadvantage. If there is a computer, several children and parents may well be trying to work on the same machine in the same room at the same time.

I hear that some schools are doing class time together via one of the platforms – in order to make sure that safeguarding guidelines are followed some are only audio. Staff are contacting their pupils via email and that contact is vital if the lock down continues. It’s vital that somehow those pupils without access to these interactions should be part of the new normal schooling. Suddenly pupil poverty, which is largely hidden in schools,  has come to the fore and supplying the technology should be as important today as text books were to us.

So the weather is to take a turn for the worse this week. Perhaps I’ll get round to sorting out my paperwork – or creatively think of loads of distraction activities to avoid it. In the meantime the garden beckons.

from Rajan in Mumbai, India: Gratitude

May 1. Migration from rural to urban is reality in India. Millions of people are estimated to migrate from rural areas to urban areas and metropolitan lobour markets, industries and farms. It has become essential for them from the regions that face frequent shortages of rainfall or they suffer floods, or where there are less or no opportunity for employment. There are other social, economical and political reasons also. It also adds burden on the urban areas in many aspects.

Many of these migrants do not bring their families along with them. Once a year they go to their native places to visit families. Among the biggest employers of migrant workers is the construction sector,textile, domestic work, transportation etc. They are poor people.

Sudden announcement of lockdown due to corona outbreak and because of the sealed borders they could not go back to their native places. When all others were staying with their families, these poor people could not. Under these kinds of situations everybody needs emotional support. They somehow tried to go back even walking several miles. They were stopped on the border of the district by the local administration  and quarantine them in schools, hostels or whichever place was readily available in that area. Their life became miserable. However, Government and NGO’s made some arrangements for their food free of cost as their income is nil in these days. 

Now the State governments are trying to make some arrangements to send them to their native places. The number of corona positive cases are increasing and therefore It is a challenging task for the government to send them safely. Now after 40 days various state governments talked with each other and made a plan to send these migrant labourers to their respective homes safely. Both the Government and these migrant workers faced problems because of the lockdown. But I must say that the Governments have failed in social intelligence before taking a decision of lockdown. There is a need to amend lobour laws for these kinds of situations about fixing the responsibilities of the respective governments.

But I have a story to tell about some sensitive migrant labourers even when they were suffering. Some migrant labourers who were provided temporary shelter in a school building during lockdown in a village Palsana, district Sikar, state of Rajasthan in India. As they were getting good food from the villagers they said we will go home when time comes, but we can not stay idle for long. We may get sick if we don’t work. They voluntarily offered to paint the building. We will not charge anything but give us paint and brush so that we can facelift the school building. Students studying in this School are like our children, at least they will speak good about us, will remember us. Villagers, administration, sarpanch and principal made all the arrangements and we are grateful to them. Hats off to labourers for showing gratitude to villagers for taking care of them in time of crisis.

I must say that they may be poor but rich in their heart!

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: guest blog from Cathy Buckle in Zimbabwe – god help us …

from Cathy Buckle in Zimbabwe

Cathy Buckle. Dear Family and Friends,
On an early morning emergency dash to collect supplies I was anxious about venturing out and what I would see. It was Day 5 of Zimbabwe’s 21 day Coronavirus lockdown and I knew that by now people who live hand to mouth and eke out a living selling fruit and vegetables from roadside stalls would be getting desperate. Our taps were dry for the second day running and with gloves and a mask on I set out. People were out looking for water already, so far there was no news on where there were supplies of maize meal, the staple food.

I passed a man pushing a wheelbarrow with five empty yellow water containers, heading towards a public borehole. Fourteen people were already there ahead of him, standing in line at the borehole waiting for their turn to use the hand pump and fill their containers with water. This is coping with Coronavirus Zimbabwe style.

Further along a policewoman in uniform ignored me, she was busy taking a selfie photograph of herself on the side of the road, a block or two from the town centre. She wasn’t wearing a face mask. A group of four police men and women armed with truncheons were having an altercation with a man carrying a small cardboard box. None of the police were wearing face masks despite being a few inches away from the man. This is coping with Coronavirus Zimbabwe style.

All week we’ve been seeing pictures of big crowds of people desperately trying to buy maize meal in Harare and Bulawayo. No chance for social distancing, no sign of masks, just a massive squash of people trying to get food for their families, people who have to choose between hunger and an invisible virus. Almost five hundred people have been arrested this week for being on the streets in breach of lockdown, crammed into police lorries and taken away but in the same week 1680 prisoners have been released because prisons are overcrowded and congested. This is coping with Coronavirus Zimbabwe style.

On Day 5 of Zimbabwe lockdown, news had already filtered out that in the early hours of the morning police had raided Sakubva market in Mutare and confiscated three tons of fresh vegetables which were later set alight. Burning food when the country is in lockdown, people are desperate for food and over half the population is dependent on International Food Aid to survive, is very hard to understand.

Almost home from my early morning dash, two police details were standing in the middle of the road and indicated for me to stop and open my window, asking where I was going and why. The police woman who came to my window wasn’t wearing a mask or gloves and the obvious question that came to mind was: what if she’s got Coronavirus, isn’t she passing it on to every person she stops and questions? Isn’t this making a complete nonsense of lockdown, defeating the whole purpose of confining people to their homes to stop the spread of Covid 19? This is coping, or not, with Coronavirus, Zimbabwe style. God help us.


Until next time, thanks for reading this Letter From Zimbabwe, now in its 20th year, and my books about life in Zimbabwe, love cathy 3 April 2020. Copyright © Cathy Buckle. http://cathybuckle.co.zw/