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The welfare state - protecting the needy or supporting scroungers?

Nearly 70 years after it was introduced to improve the lives of us all, the welfare state is under greater scrutiny than ever before.

Hit hard by an ailing NHS and government austerity measures, critics argue that this bastion of British liberalism is no longer fit for purpose, while the media increasingly paints a picture of benefits scroungers taking money from the pockets of the hard-working few.

On 23 November, Brunel University London will be asking an audience of students and the local community to make their own minds up on one of the biggest issues facing today’s society.

Titled ‘Does the welfare state have a place in a modern economy?’ the first of Brunel’s free Big Question debates will give some of the biggest critics and supporters of the welfare state the task of presenting the audience with the evidence.

Panellist and Brunel Emeritus Professor Peter Beresford OBE, an activist and advocate for disability rights, said: “The welfare state is a subject that brings up so many conflicting views, some of them quite extreme, but we can’t bury our heads in the sand and pretend they don’t exist.

“They form the conversations that are taking place right now in every community in Britain, and they’re important because this is an issue that affects every one of us.

“So is the welfare state the great gift our grandparents gave us, or a superannuated layabouts’ charter as many politicians and members of the media would have us believe? I know what I think, but now it’s time to open up the debate and give the audience the chance to be the judge.”

Chaired by David Brindle, Public Services Editor at The Guardian, confirmed panelists also include investigative author and journalist Harriet Sergeant, television personality and columnist Katie Hopkins, and social justice activist and founder of Taxpayers Against Poverty, the Rev Paul Nicolson.

To book tickets to the first debate, please visit the Eventbrite page here.

The Big Question debates form part of Brunel University London’s 50th Anniversary celebrations. Three further debates on big topical issues will be held next year. To find out more about all the events the university has planned to celebrate its 50th, visit



Chair and panellists:


David Brindle

David Brindle is Public Services Editor of The Guardian. He has been the paper's social affairs correspondent and edited the Society section. He has won awards for his coverage of social services, disability and nursing and was awarded the Social Care Association's merit award for 2007. He is vice-chair of 2Care, a mental health service charity.

Professor Peter Beresford OBE

Professor Peter Beresford OBE is Emeritus Professor of Social Policy at Brunel University London and co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, the national disabled people's and service users' organisation. Peter has a longstanding involvement in issues of participation and service user involvement in research and evaluation, as writer, researcher, educator and campaigner.

Harriet Sergeant

A journalist, author and Research Fellow of the Centre for Policy Studies, an independent think tank, Harriet Sergeant has written a number of books, including Among the Hoods, about her friendship with a South London gang. Harriet has also written five reports for the Centre for Policy Studies, on immigration, the NHS, the police, education and social care.

Katie Hopkins

As columnist for the Mail Online and television personality, Katie brings her unique take on the day’s news and shares her honest views. Katie doesn’t conform to PC convention but champions the spirit of hard-working Britain. She is robust about the need for individuals to take accountability for their actions and to strive to succeed.

Rev Paul Nicolson

Founder of social justice campaign group Taxpayers Against Poverty in 2012, the Rev Paul Nicolson is an active campaigner on issues affecting the rights of those on low incomes, including the effect upon them of cuts in council tax benefit and other benefits. In defence of the poor, he took the decision in 2013 to refuse to pay his own council tax as a matter of civil disobedience.