The struggle for democracy offers us a parallel to the struggle for decent welfare reform. Without this struggle political systems tend to autocracy and elitism.

Welfare reform does not mean unfair cuts or mindless tinkering from Whitehall.

Welfare reform should mean helping everyone have more control over their own lives, within an institutional framework that creates universal rights and opportunities for redress. Democracies have always attempted to achieve this – not just by creating processes for collective decision-making, but also by protecting the rightful autonomy of the individual from state intrusion.

We must end the feudal assumption of the elite that their power gives them the necessary authority and wisdom to rule every detail of our lives. A decent welfare system would give:

  • Clear universal rights to income, education, healthcare and disability support
  • Maximum control for citizens
  • Positive incentives for earning and saving
  • Stronger families and communities

It took a long time, and a lot of political organisation from outside the existing political elites, to ensure universal suffrage for men and women. We cannot expect the existing system to deliver positive change on its own; we will need organisation, ideas and alliances that make sense to ordinary people.