Why we need the Welfare State | 09/10/2012

My great-aunty Lizzie is one of my greatest heroes.  She was born in Govan in 1893 and died in 1987 at the age of 93.  My sister and I always called her “gran”, because this is the woman who brought my dad, uncle and aunts up from an early age.

When my (real) grandmother died just after WW2, my dad was just 7 years old.  My aunt Betty was a toddler.  Jackie and Rosemary were a little bit older so could understand what had happened a bit better.  Their father couldn’t cope and asked my grandmother’s sister (great-aunty Lizzie) to help look after them.  He then disappeared to Australia and nobody had much contact since.  Lizzie was a widow with a young son of her own to bring up, but she took those poor kids in anyway, as the alternative (beatings and abuse at Nazareth House) was just not an option for her.

So my great-aunt (I’ll just call her gran now, because I feel weird calling her great-aunt), a young widow living in an attic in Plantation with her two year old son decided not to abandon her sister’s family.  She had a part-time job as a cleaner in the local school – a hard, physical job in the days before hoovers and floor cleaners, she was on her hands and knees scrubbing floors with carbolic soap.  There was no Widows Pension or Child Benefit.  She didn’t get compensation of any kind after her husband died working in the shipyards.  The father’s family had nothing to do with them either, just forgot all their promises of help and turned their backs.

My gran would get up at 5am six days a week.  She would go to her job, work her socks off, come home, light the fires, make porridge, get 5 kids up for school, washed, dressed and out the door.  Then she would go to the Steamie to wash their clothes, mangle them, carry the heavy wet washing home, clean and scrub the two rooms, take her turn “on the stair”, make the tea, help with homework, clear up again and go to bed.  Money was always tight, rent to be paid, the coalman, food, the electricity meter – all on a few pounds a week.  Clothes were hand-me-downs from neighbours or from the St Vincent de Paul.  Lizzie couldn’t be off sick or take time off for emergencies (she’d either lose her pay, get the sack, or both), and holidays were for the “posh yins up in Pollokshields”.  And always, always, at the back of Lizzie’s mind was the thought that if she was too sick to work, if she lost her job, if she fell on the ice and broke her leg – well those children who depended on her would end up ina home, and she’d be on the street.  She would lose her family and her home.

Life eased up once the welfare state was created.  The slum clearances meant that the family got out of Plantation and away to Pollok.  The sheer relief of novelties such as hot and cold running water, three bedrooms, a living room and their own toilet!!  No more sharing a filthy communal toilet with 20 others (I honestly can’t even begin to imagine).  There was fresh air, grass, space for the kids to run around and explore….. bliss.  The NHS meant no more worrying about the doctor’s fees and the price of medicine. (Lizzie’s brother Daniel died when he was 8 after developing diabetes and their parents couldn’t afford a doctor – this stayed with her all of her life). Lizzie kept working, but she knew that there was a safety net there if something bad happened, and she knew she could retire with some dignity instead of relying on the chapel and the charities.

Lizzie’s wee family prospered and got older.  Her son Jim made it to University, graduated with a degree in engineering and had a really good job with British Rail (he helped design the predecessor to the Pendelino).  My dad ended up a sergeant in the British Transport Police.  My aunt Rosemary was a clerical officer with the council for about a hundred years and my aunt Betty worked as a secretary for Strathclyde Police.  My uncle Jackie did his electrician’s apprenticeship in a shipyard and emigrated to Australia as a “Five Pound Pom”.  They all did really well, worked hard, raised their families, looked after Lizzie until the day she died.

But the Tories and the Lib Dems want to destroy all the good that the welfare state has done. 

Don’t let them.



  1. Hi Lizzie

    Without doubt we need a welfare state, and I’m happy to pay my taxes to support it, especially the NHS who were awesome when both my kids had early childhood problems. There is no way we should go back to a world without a welfare safety net.

    But sadly there is in many people a ‘something for nothing’ mentality, and often passed down through generations. I would always distance myself from the thoughts and comments of Hamface and Osborne, but there is sadly a germ of truth in this one. They clearly have an agenda to massively shrink te welfare state. I want it to remain, indeed to provide more and better support to those in need, but that does not encourage dependancy or a ‘something for nothing’ mentality. I’d welcome your thoughts on how to make that balance.

    Comment by David Hunt — 10/10/2012 @ 6:22 pm

    • Hi David,

      I do agree that there is a problem with the “something for nothing” attitude. Sadly, I do not have an answer as to how to deal with it. But I do have a problem with the current Government’s demonisation of the veulnerable in our society, to me it’s wrong and immoral to take away the help (not just financial, but practical and emotional too) that so many need. I do think the wrong approach has been taken by punishing ALL of the unemployed, ALL of the sick and ALL of the disabled just for the greed or laziness of a relative few. Especially while we’re in the middle of a double-dip recession, and with worse on the way when the Eurozone hits the fan.

      Comment by Lizzie — 11/10/2012 @ 8:58 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

About author

Blogging about politics, economics, current affairs or anything else which pops into my head.....







%d bloggers like this: