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In Praise of the Welfare State

’I believe there is a new order coming for the people of this country. It is a quiet but certain revolution.’’ – David Lloyd George, British Prime Minister (1916–22)

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Chartered Architect, Principal

at Sandeep Sewpal Architect

4.543 billion years old is the age of planet Earth according to geologists. Human beings have been living on this planet for 500,000 years or less. Agriculture is only 12,000 years old and without which, fixed settlement would have never been possible.  Large scale human civilisations appeared some 6,000 years ago. Human beings over this long timescale of its history have occupied most parts of the world and gradually started developing modern societies. But the period that sociologists refer as ‘’Modernity’’ dates back to the Industrial Revolution in Europe & United States. Over the last 250 years, the world witnessed a much faster globalization connecting societies, social life, political arrangements, economic exchanges to global tourism and electronic communications technology that has made human beings more interconnected and interdependent than any time in its history.

With the soft launch of the Metro Express this year, Mauritius can pride itself to have reached a higher level of modernity with a new public transport system creating less pollution with the support of India. But in times of financial stringency, some political leaders believe that in a welfare state, all the efforts of the community should go to its most vulnerable members, the pensioners and the very poor. Obviously, it is very logical to cater for our vulnerable members but is it sound? Would it not encourage middle class taxpayers to rethink of their position in the society where they pay the state but they do not get much in return? Housing program is typically set out for families earning less than Rs. 30,000.00 and based on means test. Housing is not a universal service, and in many societies around the world, the poor are discouraged to increase their earnings so that their benefits do not decrease, hence creating a poverty trap. Instead of consolidating the Mauritian nation, this can potentially lead to the dis-integration of social solidarity. Middle class taxpayers are not worried about the tax burden but at times, there could be a feeling of revolt if they feel that the government is not managing efficiently the universal basic services. They would pay taxes which would go towards housing, health, education and transport when this group would scarcely enjoy most of these services. It is obvious that the people who derive some benefits from a welfare state would be its greatest supporters.

In Mauritius, despite the fact that universal social programs such as health, education, pensions and transport are provided to all citizens, poverty rate is constantly measured by a government agency. Technically, there should be no poor if education, healthcare and transport for old age pensioners and school children are free for over decades but yet in 2017, 9.4% of Mauritians live below the national poverty line. Despite that people in difficult financial circumstances benefit from universal social programs of an acceptable standard to the rich, they are still struggling to climb the social ladder. Why? Can we make Mauritius a land of opportunity and make poverty history?

I believe that the most vulnerable members of our society are best protected when they are included in universal social programs instead of giving them a special treatment. Basic retirement pension should remain a universal service at any cost in the future. Nevertheless, in the housing sector, the object subsidy should be replaced by a housing allowance. The government pays up to 66.67% of the cost of the house to make the housing affordable. Should the government continue to give massive subsidy from public funds to support a housing programme which shows little result? Housing allowance through targeting will guarantee low income earners a dwelling of a minimum standard in the private rental housing sector. This system for allocation of social housing targets low income households in need of shelter and withdraw support as soon as their income increases. Hence, this system will avoid a poverty trap.

We need the welfare state more than ever because Mauritians are shocked by the ‘’poverty cycle’’ which has possibly been created by our ineffective housing program of the last 30 years. In our attempt to build a more perfect nation, we must not forget that life is full of ups and downs. Life is full of challenges like growing up, becoming adults by inspiring from role models, getting married, building a house, making it a home, raising a family, coping with illnesses or other misfortunes, leading a decent life and prepare with the ultimate challenge of frailty when becoming old. Most importantly, every citizen of Mauritius should live as free citizens and equal to other members of the society. Above all, technological advances can do nothing to change the human life cycle. Therefore, our goal is not to build a society on the blueprint of utopia or promote the interests of any group or class but rather we should become a society that serves all its citizens here and now and help them live their lives. In conclusion, living between a technological and information age, we should not forget our essential substance is spirit/soul and earth. We should have the ability to balance physical and mental so as not to let it all get over our heads and destroy what has taken millions of years to develop because we have a responsibility to the technologies that the earth and human beings have created.

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