Thursday, 19 May 2011

The Military Covenant

The relationship between the military and the welfare state has always been close. In fact its closer than close - the Welfare state owes it's existence to what we are now beginning to term 'the military covenant'. Historians of social policy will tell you that out of the first world war emerged one of the first real attempts made by the state to provide mass housing fit for the troops returning from the trenches; the 'Homes fit For Heroes' scheme - the snappy giving away the political currency it was hoped the project would bestow on its sponsors. Ultimately 'Homes fit for Heroes' was criticised along with other attempts at post-war social reform for not going far enough and It was not until the destruction reaped by a second global conflict, world war two, that Western governments instituted much more ambitious plans, the full-blown welfare-state a conscious and determined effort to build a 'new Jerusalem' a society worthy of the sacrifices made in its name.

Gradually the post-war settlement of 1945 has been eroded, weathered by the harsh winds of time. The idea of the state guaranteeing social rights to its citizens has been overturned to the point where more and more individuals are asked to make a more of a contribution whether this is an 18 year old student being asked to pay £9k a year to cover fees or an 88 year old grandmother being forced to sell her home to pay for the cost of residential care. It is in these terms which the current debates around instituting the military covenant into law are couched; Priority in housing, priority in NHS treatment. Gone is the commitment to universal citizenship and universal social rights, gone is the commitment to honour sacrifice by building a worthy society. No one would deny troops who have made so many sacrifices the best medical treatment, decent housing, or any other social right but we must not forget these are rights which extend to all and to which others can justly make claims to; the firefighter, the nurse, the teacher, the mother. Does a soldier returning from conflict wish to receive the very best whilst watching their parents receive an appalling level of care from an underfunded system? Only by recognising this need to create a fairer and more just society for all as we did in 1945 do we properly honour their sacrifice.

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