Safe in their hands

The release of Cabinet papers from 1982 has led to headlines about the revelation of a secret plan to dismantle the welfare state. It was hardly the best kept secret of its day. Nicholas Timmins, in his 1995 book The Five Giants, writes (pp 392-3):

“The headline options included: ending even price protection for all social security benefits and ending state funding of higher education. Market fees … could be charged for courses. … Replacing the NHS with private health insurance … This was dismantling the welfare state by anyone’s standards. … The wets for once combined, producing in the the words of Nigel Lawson, then Energy Secretary, ‘the nearest thing to a Cabinet riot in the history of the Thatcher administration.’ They forced the paper off the agenda … and for good measure someone … leaked it to the Economist.”

This was the background to Mrs Thatcher’s famous statement that the NHS was ‘safe with us’. The NHS has not been replaced with private insurance, but the other main measures in this agenda – charging for university tuition and stopping benefit upratings – have now been introduced.

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