The National Health Service (NHS) gives largely free treatment for everyone living in Britain. About 83 per cent is met from taxation and the rest from social security contributions. People can choose their family doctors (GP = general practitioner). In case of emergency you can call an ambulance by dialing 999 from any telephone. Health centres and NHS hospitals are run by local authorities. The Government supports the development of the private health sector. About 7 per cent of hospitals, dentists and family doctors care is private. A small number of hospitals is run by religious and charitable organizations. People in Britain can join any other existing health service system after paying some extra money.







A queue outside a Job Centre waiting for opening time.     Social welfare includes various benefits, e.g. retirement pensions (men above 65 and women above 60), sickness benefit, invalidity pensions, injury benefits, unemployment benefits (for people without a job but seeking some employment, it is paid for a maximum of one year), widow benefits, maternity benefits (maternity grant when a child is born, maternity allowance 11 weeks before a birth and 6 weeks after) and family allowances.
    In the past, begging1 for money was something the British expected to see only on trips abroad - perhaps to somewhere like India or one of the poorer African countries. It was something only uncivilized foreigners did rather than the British. Britain had buskers and street performers but they were just youngsters having a bit of fun and earning an easy pound or two.
    But the last years are different. Now it seems every town and city has its own beggars. British beggars. People, often in scruffy2, dirty clothes, who sit on the pavement or get in the way in shop doorways. Sometimes they put their hand out and say something like "Spare some change, please?" Others say nothing but have a cardboard notice reading: "No money - No job - No home". Too many of these people seem to be very young and it's a sight that many luckier people walking past don't like at all.
    The British welfare system really began in Britain in 1948 when the Labour (i. e. socialist) government came to power soon after the end of the WWII. This looked after things like pensions for retired people, benefits for the sick and unemployed, and the National Health Service. Everyone was supposed to be looked after by the state.
    Unfortunately, no one in 1948 could see what kind of problems would begin forty or fifty years later. The biggest is, of course, money. By 1994-94 social security was costing 90 million. This money can only come from people's income taxes3. To make the welfare system better the Government has only three real choices: to increase taxes, to take money from somewhere else (e. g. from the Navy and Army) or to make the present system somehow more efficient.
    Nobody likes paying taxes so the Government won't increase taxes because it is unpopular. Taking money from somewhere else is possible but usually causes other problems. In recent years, the Conservative Government, especially under Mrs Thatcher, chose the third option - but also did something more: trying to persuade4 people to look after themselves. This means encouraging things like private pension and health care schemes. These are fine for those who have the money to pay into such schemes while they are working. Unhappily, many people can't afford it so easily.
A young homeless man selling "The Issue", a magazine sold to help homeless people.    To make the system more efficient has also meant enforcing rules and regulations more carefully - with the Government hoping to reduce the number of people eligible5 for state benefit. They couldn't do much about ordinary unemployed people (about 2 million). Instead, they said that school leavers (16, 17 and 18 years old) would get no benefit before they had had some kind of job. But many school leavers cannot get jobs so their parents must continue to look after them. Similarly, older unemployed people who have once worked can only claim benefit6 if they have a regular home or "permanent address".
    This is why Britain has beggars. Some youngsters, who have never worked, argue with their parents and leave home. With no job and no permanent address they get no benefit. Other, older people, perhaps lose their home and job and are in the same situation: no job, no permanent address, no benefit. And once they are in this situation it is very difficult for them to get back to normal.
    This is the most obvious problem with the Welfare system but there are others. Currently there is much concern over the number of teenage pregnancies and single-parent families in Britain. Should the state give these people enough money to live on or does that encourage young girls to get pregnant and spend their lives receiving benefit looking after their children but otherwise doing no useful work?
    Another big problem is the cost of retirement pensions7. With increasing numbers of older people (and more of them living longer) in a few years there simply won't be enough money for these pensions. What happens then?
    The most important question about the welfare system is: how much should the state be responsible for looking after people and how much should they be responsible for looking after themselves?


1 - žebrání
2 - ubohé, ošuntělé
3 - daně z příjmu
4 - přesvědčit
5 - přicházející v úvahu
6 - žádat sociální dávky
7 - starobní důchod