Clement Attlee famously remarked:

Charity is a cold grey loveless thing. If a rich man wants to help the poor, he should pay his taxes gladly, not dole out money at a whim.

This gets bandied about a lot by many on the tax-hard left, so there’s a dull inevitability about the fact that the Clement Attlee Foundation is a registered charity and, as they point out:

… if you’re a UK taxpayer GiftAid increases the value to us of your donation by 28p in every £1 at no cost to you.

That is, the UK tax man  loses the income tax you paid on the money earned and donated.

It continues. I’ve added emphasis to parts of the following quote which is, I think, from the same 1920 Attlee book as the first:

In a civilised community, although it may be composed of self-reliant individuals, there will be some persons who will be unable at some period of their lives to look after themselves, and the question of what is to happen to them may be solved in three ways – they may be neglected, they may be cared for by the organised community as of right, or they may be left to the goodwill of individuals in the community. The first way is intolerable, and as for the third: Charity is only possible without loss of dignity between equals. A right established by law, such as that to an old age pension, is less galling than an allowance made by a rich man to a poor one, dependent on his view of the recipient’s character, and terminable at his caprice.

Attlee had a point. But he had a very different welfare state in mind than the one we’re facing now. His intention was for a safety net for people fallen temporarily (“at some period in their lives”) on hard times in a “civilised community” of “self-reliant individuals”.

UKIP would be happy with that. It’s not what the people who quote Attlee today have in mind. They seem to leave this bit out when picking their citations.

The Attlee Foundation does seem to be a good thing, though:

Our past projects include:

  • Housing for teenagers in London’s East End, similar to today’s foyer projects, and a halfway those leaving the housing
  • Opening a community centre and day care for drug users at a time when there was no government funded support for drug users. This was funded initially by the Leverhulme Trust and later a London borough. This project led to development of a drug-free hostel for the next stage of rehabilitation which became the first of many Phoenix Houses across the UK.
  • Providing eye camps in India and funding for an Indian doctor to study at Moorfields, in association with the Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind.
  • Developing an adventure playground in the heart of London’s East End. After many years of successful operation we redeveloped the site to add the youth and community centre and sports pitches.
  • Attlee Means Business is an exciting project to develop entrepreneurial skills in young people in Tower Hamlets with support from City businesses. A programme of support over six workshops covering business basics and planning will be provided by City business volunteers with inspirational talks from successful business people and entrepreneurs. This project is funded jointly by City businesses and London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

Cold? Loveless? And even if you have paid all your taxes gladly, is it a bad thing to want to do more?

Attlee can’t have thought so. The Foundation was established before his death, to carry on his work. By then, more than 40 years after he wrote his famous sentence, he had, presumably, changed his mind.

Post to Twitter

  • Mr Ecks

    The second action Atlee talks of is immoral. Theft under threat of violence is wrong–regardless of how well the proceeds of thieving are spent. You do not have a right to other peoples money. If you choose to help and those you help feel one-down–well that is a shame. If you know of any way that goods/services can be caused to appear without someone working for it, then their is the solution to the problem of feeling bad when people get helped. Thieving and ultimately murder (because thats the bottom line if you won’t submit to their theft) is wrong.

  • Furor Teutonicus

    XX A right established by law, such as that to an old age pension, is less galling than an allowance made by a rich man to a poor one, XX

    And is the tax payer, therfore the social welfare system seen as “a person IN LAW?” (Can’t remember the legal term for it right now), and, off our backs, is this “person” not VERY rich indeed?

  • Jack Cunliffe

    “But he had a very different welfare state in mind than the one we’re facing now.” – unsubstantiated, untrue. See

  • That book doesn’t seem to address the point and is apparently based on a complete fallacy, “the myth that the population divides into those who benefit from the welfare state and those who pay into it – “skivers” and “strivers”, “them” and “us”.”

    If the author imagines that’s the basis of the debate, he’s an idiot.

  • Jack

    Eh? You said “But he had a very different welfare state in mind than the one we’re facing now. His intention was for a safety net for people fallen temporarily (“at some period in their lives”) on hard times in a “civilised community” of “self-reliant individuals”.”, The (your) implication being that _isn’t_ what we’ve got. The book demonstrates, with detailed analysis, that actually is exactly how the system works. The complete fallacy that you refer to is proven to be exactly that, there is no such things as skivers and strivers, it;s false dichotomy. Are (were) we talking at cross purposes or do you disbelieve the analysis?

  • We have generational dependency, families where people have been dependent for two or even three generations. That isn’t “at some period in their lives”.

  • Jack

    Where is your evidence? I’d posit extremely small numbers of these.

  • Here and here, for a start:

    I’ll repeat this because you haven’t understood it. The book you’re pointing to makes my case even stronger. It shows how the welfare state has extended its tendrils into the lives of tens of millions who have no need of it. A safety net is something that is used in extremis.

  • Jack

    You point to a paper by Lindsey Macmillan who is now a member of the research centre that the author of the original book is the director of! In fact he references a rather easy to read blogpost by the same authors that summarises the report: which complete disproves your point in rather plain English.

    To be a little more explicit, to quote from page 3 of the report:
    “However, contrary to some commentary on this subject, there are very few households where both generations have never worked. Only 15,350 households in the UK have two or more generation who report to have ‘never worked’ and of these, many of the younger generation have only been out of education for less than a year”.

    You’ll find similar statements in the blog post should you care to read. These include: “Whilst welfare could be a reason why people turn away from the labour market, the problem only exists when work disappears” (which is in bold) and “Research suggests that sons with workless dads are not only more likely to have lower cognitive skills and educational attainment but they are also more likely to have lower soft skills including self-esteem and extroversion. These are key skills associated with future employability.”

    It also quite clearly states that intergenerational worklessness is a symptom of the local labour market conditions and not of reliance on a welfare state, though the lack of social mobility in the UK is troublesome and effects people’s life chance – termed ‘scaring’. This is reiterated by the government report you also link to, which makes no statement about your “families where people have been dependent for two or even three generations”, but focuses on the lack of social mobility

    Now if your policy implication to fix this social mobility is the removal of the welfare state that supports people and helps alleviate the worst effects of worklessness, then fair enough, but that is a political argument and is not grounded in any analytical evidence. In fact the evidence (the book) says that people get out approximately what they put in. Perhaps this helps: (particularly the 7th paragraph)

  • I was waiting for you to type this. I could have put money on it. It’s the classic, fatuous, straw man that’s produced every time. Nobody, at all, is talking about “households where both generations have never worked.”

  • Jack

    I was only clearing up your misunderstanding of what you presented as ‘evidence’! Demonstrating that it implied quite the opposite… If you wont engage in research that comes to conclusions such as “For those families where generations struggle to hold stable work, local labour market conditions play a crucial role” (the report, you’ll remember, isn’t limited to your “households where both generations have never worked” nor was my reponse), despite that you originally cited it then back track and resort to barely concealed ad hominen, then good luck to you.

    To get back to your original post that brought me into this – it is unsubstantiated and it is untrue. You have not got a shred of evidence, whilst I’ve given you a well respected book by a knighted professor from an extremely high profile research centre at one of the world’s highest regarded universities. And even when you do try to post something it is quite clear you either haven’t read it or don’t understand what its saying.

  • You were cleaning nothing up; your level of comprehension is so low you *still* can’t grasp that the book you have presented supports my post.

  • Jack

    You don’t need to be rude, lad