The system of UK workers paying in to a fund so that they could claim payments if they were sick, among other things, was originally created by the National Insurance Act of 1911. It's been modified since to take it from the original 'sickness benefit' to the current 'Statutory Sick Pay' system, of course, but the principle of National Insurance remains very much the same - workers pay in to an insurance scheme and receive benefits in return when they aren't working (due to sickness or unemployment). Among those who drafted the 1911 Act was one Winston Churchill, then a minister in the Liberal Government, but later, of course, a Tory icon.
According to newspaper reports today, the current Conservative government seems to want to step fundamentally away from this system. Apparently, 'David Cameron is open to idea of workers saving up to fund own sick pay', and the idea seems to be being pushed by the inevitable IDS (now there's a surprise!).
Do they not realise that workers are already doing this? That is what National Insurance IS! That is what it does! That is what it is for! We already have this provision in the UK, and in general it works very well.
So what on earth are they talking about - do they want to start privatising National Insurance in some way? Do they want to step away from the idea of a national scheme where employers also pay a contribution towards such basic benefits? Perhaps that is the key point, I guess - are they wanting to replace NI with a system where contributions only come specifically from an individual employee themselves, to take employers contributions out of the system entirely?
This is obviously an extremely worrying new idea from the Conservatives in many ways, and one that rides roughshod over one a century of treating working people decently via a proper, national, contributory scheme. Not only that, it rides roughshod over the historic achievements of one of their favourite 'sons', even if he was being somewhat 'prodigal' at the time!
We need to have a proper, functioning Welfare State in order to provide the circumstances whereby people are not held back due to circumstances of poor health or unemployment. That is a very basic part of providing a level playing field so that people can have the opportunity to succeed through their own efforts. To dismantle that would threaten the very core of a free and equal society.
Are the Tories really considering going to go that far in dismantling the Welfare State, taking us back over a century to before the achievements of the likes of Lloyd-George and Winston Churchill? What about those of William Beveridge and Nye Bevan - are they next in their sights? Or perhaps, given their apparent desire to trample the great achievements of their own greatest heroes, the next step is to roll back Thatcherism!
It's not government policy...yet! We shall have to wait and see what happens!