“Economics are the method,” wrote Margaret Thatcher in 1981, “the object is to change the heart and soul.”
Guided by her Christian faith, the prime minister believed that the welfare state was not only harming her fellow citizens but damaging the moral fabric of the United Kingdom. As Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite explains, Thatcher’s fears about the welfare state were twofold:
First, she and her advisers thought that generous collective provision for unemployment and sickness was sapping some working-class people’s drive to work. Second, they feared the corrupting influence of what Thatcher’s close ally Keith Joseph called ‘the Father Christmas state’ on the middle class, who were thought to be in danger of relying increasingly not on their own hard work and thrift, but on collective action through trade unions and state hand-outs. Thatcher wanted to re-establish an economic and legal framework and a cultural ethos which rewarded what she saw as the ‘Victorian’ or ‘bourgeois’ values of thrift, self-reliance and charity among all classes.
“The aim was not to abolish the welfare state entirely,” adds Sutcliffe-Braithwaite, “but to chip away at it, leaving social security as a last resort for the very poorest minority, and making it irrelevant to those on middle and high incomes, who would choose private provision instead. In this, Thatcher was successful.”
But not everyone believed that Thatcher’s efforts were rooted in a moral concern. In 1985 the Church of England released a document authored by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission on Urban Priority Areas. The controversial report blamed the spiritual and economic malaise largely on Thatcher’s economic policies.