As the Beveridge Report reaches its 75th anniversary Helen O’Neill, Archive, Heritage & Development Librarian takes a look at this landmark report.
The economist and social reformer, William Henry Beveridge (1879-1963) entered Whitehall as a civil servant in July 1908 and became a member of the Library in 1912 when he was thirty-three years old. During the Liberal government of 1906 – 1914 he advised David Lloyd George on old age pensions and national insurance. In 1941 Churchill’s wartime government commissioned a report into the ways Britain should be rebuilt after World War Two and Beveridge was appointed chair. Between 1941 and 1942, in his role as chair of the Inter-departmental Committee on Social Insurance and Allied Services, Beveridge wrote a landmark report which was laid on the table of the House of Commons at 3pm on 1 December 1942 and was presented to Parliament the following day. Known as the Beveridge Report it laid the foundations for the welfare state.
The report identified five ‘Giant Evils’ that the government needed to address: ‘Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness’ and made recommendations for tackling them which included the establishment of a free national health service and government policies to maintain full employment. The Beveridge Report proposed a system of social insurance which protected citizens ‘from cradle to grave’ funded by all working people paying a weekly contribution to the state. Beveridge aimed to ensure that there was an acceptable minimum standard of living in Britain below which nobody fell.
The Library has an original copy of the Beveridge Report, currently on display in the main Reading Room. The report garnered enormous popular support both at home and abroad when it was published in 1942. It was seen as the light at the end of the tunnel of war and a promise of social justice once hostilities had ended. It was translated into several languages and it circulated amongst Allied forces. It even caught the attention of Goebbels who realised its importance to Allied moral.
At home Beveridge characterized the Government’s response to the report in 1942 as one of “marked reserve” and felt himself increasingly ignored. After the landslide Labour victory in the 1945 general election, the welfare state proposals recommended in the Beveridge Report were introduced.
The Beveridge Report changed British society. Applaud
ed, translated, emulated, contested, embattled and defended, its influence continues today. As Jane Beveridge wrote in Beveridge and His Plan in 1954, it marked a new beginning in the relation between citizens and state:
“Whether you like it or not, whether you are glad or sorry, the Beveridge Report was the inauguration of a new relation within the State of man to man, and of man to the State, not only in this country but throughout the world. The ethic of the universal brotherhood of man was here enshrined in a plan to be carried out by every individual member of the community on his own behalf and on behalf of his fellows.”
Archive, Heritage & Development Librarian