Conservative Home

« Sayeeda Warsi: We're throwing everything we've got at the Police Commissioner elections | Main | David T Breaker: Why are we extending the welfare state to include free care? »

Dr Madsen Pirie: Despite the nanny state, the British people retain a sense of personal responsibility and ambition

Pirie MadsenDr Madsen Pirie is President of the Adam Smith Institute. Follow the ASI on Twitter.

Although politicians and civil servants might want to give us advice about what foods we should eat and how much to drink, the UK population does not agree that they should.  And when asked in a recent poll if politicians and civil servants are well-equipped to make personal decisions on their behalf, nearly two out of three Britons disagree.

These are heartening figures to those who think that the state nanny intrudes too much into our lives.  Government pays vast sums of money to the advertising industry to encourage us regard salt as some kind of poison, and sugar as something to be shunned.  It employs large numbers of people to persuade us to eat five vegetable and fruit types every day, and to limit our consumption of alcohol to about one glass of wine per day.  Not content with that, it pays people to exhort us to walk more.

There are very few aspects of modern life from which government is absent.  It tells us, sometimes in whispers, but more commonly in a shout, how we should live.  It treats smokers as lepers, to be banished from civil society's indoor spaces and made to sin if they must on the streets.

The Adam Smith Institute recently commissioned a poll to discover how people in Britain view authority and its exhortations.  It did a similar exercise in 1998, a year into the Blair government, to learn how the Millennial Generation of young people thought about government.

One eye-opener then was the fact that a large number of young people (48%) said they would at some stage quite like to run their own business.  The recent figure for the 18-24 age group was 49%, almost the same.  It still seems to be a major ambition amongst youngsters, and bodes well for our entrepreneurial future and the new jobs that new businesses create.

A majority then agreed that it was up to them rather than the government to get them a job.  The recent figure showed 71% in agreement and only 7% disagreeing.

When asked if they thought most of their pension would probably come from a pension fund they had saved themselves, people agreed by more than a two to one margin. 

One issue that seems to divide the nation along party lines is the question of whether people think that government should provide housing.  Asked if government has a duty to provide housing for people like themselves, only 21% of Tory voters agree with this, but 48% disagree. It is the opposite among Labour voters, where 55% agree that it is government’s duty, and only 16% disagree. 

There are several ways of looking at findings such as these.  It might be that people have low expectations of government, and do not think them capable of delivering jobs or pensions.  Or it could just be that people think these things are their own responsibility and want to keep it that way.  Either way it seems a far cry from the cradle to grave provision that was once declared to be an aim of the welfare state.

The findings seem to confound those who thought that a bleaker economic outlook would lead people to depend more on the state and its activities.  It looks very much as if people in Britain retain a fair measure of both self-confidence and ambition.  And they do not seem to like being nannied.  The cue now is for politicians and civil servants to take due note of this and behave somewhat differently to the ways in which they have been behaving.

> Read more about this report on the ASI website.


You must be logged in using Intense Debate, Wordpress, Twitter or Facebook to comment.