Just before the end of Michaelmas term, Durham Union Society hosted its seventh annual ‘Second Chance’ debate, in collaboration with Experience Durham and Changing Lives. The debate takes its name from its aim to give individuals from the local community – many of whom have suffered from drug and/or alcohol misuse and related issues such as homelessness – a second chance to positively engage in their local community, and voice their opinions.
The debate, which took place on the last Friday of term, saw the culmination of eight weeks of intensive debate training as a group of socially excluded speakers from the local community took over the debating chamber from the regular stream of politicians, journalists, and experts who regularly occupy it.
The line-up of speakers, with whom the Union Society worked with the aim of increasing their self-esteem, and enable a wider sense of social inclusion, spent the evening debating a very topical motion: ‘This House Believes that the Welfare State Benefits Everyone’.
Speaking for the opposition, Brad claimed that social welfare “doesn’t cover everyone”, citing how local authorities only cover 50% of free school meals. He argued that although improvements have been made since the foundation of the welfare state, especially with the publication of the Beveridge Report in 1942, “we have continual pockets of poverty”. Brad’s claim was supported by Tom, who alleged that “there are still some older people who do not have access”, claiming that “some people do benefit, but most certainly not everyone”.
Agreeing with Brad, Steven contended that “welfare is in a state”, explaining how whilst rich people have private healthcare providers such as BUPA, “we mere mortals have the NHS and have to go on a waiting list”.
Furthering the arguments of the opposition, Glenda drew reference to recent reforms to the welfare state, asking “why are working parents, who struggle to bring a family up, and work long hours, going to be the worst hit?” She also asked why “parents who try their hardest to get their students to go to school suffer by getting their child benefit cut”, when the child blatantly refuses. Adding to this, Evelyn argued that “people who have worked all of their lives are those who lose out in the end in the system”, highlighting how society is still very unequal.
Drawing reference to the social effects of inequality, Lynn argued that “people are being stigmatised through programmes such as Benefits Street”, which creates social tension and suspicion.
Andy claimed that “the minimum wage is too low for people to feel that they have enough job security”, which could be “demoralising”. Similarly, Pamela contended that reductions in legal aid “meant that people will not get help” when they need it most.
Appealing to the audience to take themselves back 15,000 years, to a time when everything was hunted, John argued that “the welfare state does benefit everybody because of that cooperation – we have a welfare state because we should have one”.
Outlining the economic benefits of the welfare state, Mark argued that “the welfare state not only finances the NHS, but also provides education and other benefits which contribute positively to the economy, which provides people with the opportunity to attain a higher quality of life, and creating a feel good factor”. Michael claimed that the welfare state is essential in a civilised society.
Contending that although “nothing in this world is ideal”, Jeff argued that “the peace of mind that the NHS gives millions of people is immeasurable, and that our future is dependent upon it.”
Also speaking for the proposition, Craig explained how the state pension means that elderly people “do not need to rely on their families in later life. It was also argued that the welfare state “shows the next generation how to act morally”. Also espousing the ethical benefits of the welfare state, Carson claimed that “we have a moral obligation to enable people to find personal satisfaction beyond commercial success”, particularly through being able to engage in education and obtain a good standard of living.
Michaelmas term President, Napat Rungsrithananon, said that “the Second Chance charity project has always been integral to the Union Society’s identity”, adding that it gave the “opportunity to see the real-world impact of free speech and debate on the local community”.