Today as the government wrestles with the huge bills of the state, and the large inherited debts of the nation, it has to ask how much help should we offer our neighbours?
Most of us want to live in a civilised society where no-one need go without food, warmth and shelter. We are all children of the post war welfare state. We want the disabled and those unable to find work to be given state benefits, children to receive a free education and all to have medical care free at the point of use.
Much of the debate is still about how far should we expand our collective provision, even though we are finding the bills very high for what we have already. This week the government has edged towards the state offering more provision for care for the elderly for people who do have some assets – the state already guarantees care for those without savings or a property.
It was not so very long ago that the welfare state promised free education for 5 to 16 year olds, free medical treatment for all, and old age pensions for 60 year old women and 65 year old men.
Since this post war settlement was hammered out, longevity has shot up, giving many people ten years or more extra pension than the original plans envisaged. The school age has been lowered, to allow a big expansion of nursery and pre school state provision. The school leaving age has effectively been raised, allowing many more to stay at school or in College until 18.
In the other direction, there have been moves to raise the pension age, but by less than the increase in longevity. University students are now asked to pay fees from student loans. The short term effect of this has been to raise the levels of public borrowing, as the state stands behind the student loan scheme which builds up extra liabilities in the first few years before repayments start to balance it.
Do you think we have our obligations to our neighbours about right? Are there further areas where you want taxpayer support? Are there areas of current benefits and welfare service where you would like to see more self reliance and less state spending? Are there changes to the eligibility rules that you would like?