The Swedish universal versus austerity

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Its [the Swedish Welfare state’s] members felt that since the quality of welfare programs was so high, they were prepared to pay taxes to finance them. But as soon as financing for the welfare sector is cut, then quality drops, and the middle class opts out for private solutions. Michal Rozworski — Beyond the Swedish Model

As I’ve argued before, state services – whether they’re income payments, schools or libraries – have to be universal in order to thrive. To put it another way, they have to be attractive to everyone in order to receive emotional and financial investment, not just a sector of society deemed to be in need of some form of assistance.

Accessibility isn’t just a matter of ramps and big text, and service provision shouldn’t be an exercise in Christian aid.

From this point of view, austerity’s sole purpose is to de-universalise and therefore dismantle the state through what’s euphemistically known as targeting.

It’s worth remembering that to some (many, perhaps) this is a noble goal, what Alistair Campbell would refer to as an objective:

What else do winners all have? An objective (often, “to win”). They have a strategy, and they know the difference between that and tactics. They never get confused, or diverted. They make their own weather, they don’t just react to other people’s strategies. It sounds easy, but when he lists the people who can’t do it, or simply aren’t doing it – Nato, the Conservative party, Barack Obama – it becomes plain that it isn’t. Zoe Williams — Alastair Campbell: ‘Labour have a better story to tell, and it’s not being told’

Of course, most of Campbell’s spiel is bullshit, but I think the idea of having a political goal (beyond simply ‘winning’), a strategy to achieve that goal and day to day tactics is a useful way of looking at things. And I’d disagree with Campbell when he claims the Conservatives can’t do it. They have a goal (to get rid of the welfare state), strategies (to starve it of funds and middle class support) and tactics (demonising poor people, likening the economy to a household budget and claiming we’re in the midst of a calamity, that we’ve ‘run out of money’).

But it’s worth asking: if we oppose this view, what’s our goal beyond winning, and beating austerity? Is it some form of charity? Or is it some vision of the Swedish welfare state of the 80s? I can understand all sorts of defensive strategies, but to what purpose?