The Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Social Insurance and Allied Services, known commonly as the Beveridge Report was an influential document in the founding of the welfare state in the United Kingdom, published in December 1942. It was chaired by William Beveridge, an economist, who identified five "Giant Evils" in society: squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, and disease, and went on to propose widespread reform to the system of social welfare to address these. The Report came in the midst of war, and promised a reward for the sacrifices undertaken by everyone. Highly popular with the public, the report formed the basis for the post-war reforms known as the Welfare State, which include the expansion of National Insurance and the creation of the National Health Service.
In 1940, during the Second World War, the Labour Party had entered into a coalition with the Conservative Party. On 10 June, 1941 Arthur Greenwood, the Labour MP and Minister without Portfolio, had announced the creation of an inter-departmental committee which would carry out a survey of Britain's social insurance and allied services:
To undertake, with special reference to the inter-relation of the schemes, a survey of the existing national schemes of social insurance and allied services, including workmen's compensation, and to make recommendations.
Its members were civil servants from the Home Office, Ministry of Labour and National Service, Ministry of Pensions, Government Actuary, Ministry of Health, HM Treasury, Reconstruction Secretariat, Board of Customs and Excise, Assistance Board, Department of Health for Scotland, Registry of Friendly Societies and Office of the Industrial Assurance Commissioner.
The Five Giant Evils
The "Five Giant Evils" in society identified by the report were:
Squalor, Ignorance, Want, Idleness, Disease.
The Report offered three guiding principles to its recommendations:
- Proposals for the future should not be limited by "sectional interests" in learning from experience and that a "revolutionary moment in the world's history is a time for revolutions, not for patching".
- Social insurance is only one part of a "comprehensive policy of social progress". The five giants on the road to reconstruction were Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness.
- Policies of social security "must be achieved by co-operation between the State and the individual", with the state securing the service and contributions. The state "should not stifle incentive, opportunity, responsibility; in establishing a national minimum, it should leave room and encouragement for voluntary action by each individual to provide more than that minimum for himself and his family".
Beveridge was opposed to "means-tested" benefits. His proposal was for a flat rate contribution rate for everyone and a flat rate benefit for everyone. Means-testing was intended to play a tiny part because it created high marginal tax rates for the poor (the "poverty trap").
Inside the Cabinet, there was debate, instigated by Brendan Bracken, on 16 November 1942 over whether to publish the Report as a White Paper at that time. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Kingsley Wood, said that it involved "an impracticable financial commitment" and that publication should therefore be postponed. However, the Cabinet decided on 26 November to publish it on 2 December.
The Ministry of Information Home Intelligence found that the Report had been "welcomed with almost universal approval by people of all shades of opinion and by all sections of the community" and seen as "the first real attempt to put into practice the talk about a new world". In a sample taken in the fortnight after the Report's publication, the British Institute of Public Opinion found that 95% of the public had heard of the Report and that there was "great interest in it" but criticism that old age pensions were not high enough. They also found that "there was overwhelming agreement that the plan should be put into effect".
The Times said of the Report: "a momentous document which should and must exercise a profound and immediate influence on the direction of social change in Britain". The Manchester Guardian called it "a big and fine thing". The Daily Telegraph said it was a consummation of the revolution begun by David Lloyd George in 1911. The Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, said it was "the first time anyone had set out to embody the whole spirit of the Christian ethic in an Act of Parliament".
There was a planned debate in Parliament on the Report for February 1943 so the Cabinet appointed the Lord President of the Council, Sir John Anderson, to chair a committee to consider the Report and to set out the government's line in the Commons debate. In the Commons debate the government announced they would not implement the Report immediately. The Tory Reform Committee, consisting of 45 Conservative MPs, demanded the founding of a Ministry of Social Security immediately. At the division at the end of the debate, 97 Labour MPs, 11 Independents, 9 Liberals, 3 Independent Labour Party MPs and 1 Communist voted against the government. A Ministry of Information Home Intelligence report found that after the debate the left-wing section of the public were disappointed but that "an approving minority" thought that the government was correct in waiting until the post-war financial situation were known before making a decision. An opinion poll by the British Institute of Public Opinion found that 29% were satisfied with the government's attitude to the Report; 47% were dissatisfied and 24% "don't knows".
Churchill gave a broadcast on 21 March 1943 titled "After the War", where he warned the public not to impose "great new expenditure on the State without any relation to the circumstances which might prevail at the time" and said there would be "a four-year plan" of post-war reconstruction "to cover five or six large measures of a practical character" which would be put to the electorate after the war and implemented by a new government. These measures were "national compulsory insurance for all classes for all purposes from the cradle to the grave"; the abolition of unemployment by government policies which would "exercise a balancing influence upon development which can be turned on or off as circumstances require"; "a broadening field for State ownership and enterprise"; new housing; major reforms to education; largely expanded health and welfare services.
While the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party quickly adopted Beveridge's proposals, the Labour Party was slow to follow. Labour leaders opposed Beveridge's idea of a National Health Service run through local health centres and regional hospital administrations, preferring a state-run body. Beveridge complained about the opposition of Labour leaders, including that of Ernest Bevin: "For Ernest Bevin, with his trade-union background of unskilled workers... social insurance was less important than bargaining about wages." Bevin derided the Beveridge Report as a "Social Ambulance Scheme" and followed the Coalition Government's view that it should not be implemented until the end of the war (he was furious in February 1943 when a large number of Labour back-benchers ignored their leaders and voted against delay in implementing Beveridge).
The war years saw great improvements in working conditions and welfare provisions, which paved the way for the postwar welfare state. Infant, child, and maternity services were expanded, while the Official Food Policy Committee (chaired by the deputy PM and Labour leader Clement Attlee) approved grants of fuel and subsidised milk to mothers and to children under the age of five in June 1940. A month later, the Board of Education decided that free school meals should become more widely available. By February 1945, 73% of children received milk in school, compared with 50% in July 1940. Free vaccination against diphtheria was also provided for children at school. In addition, the Town and Country Planning Act 1944 gave consideration to those areas damaged in bombing raids and enabled local authorities to clear slums, while the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act passed that same year made £150 million available for the construction of temporary dwellings.
To improve conditions for elderly persons, supplementary pensions were introduced in 1940, and in 1943, there were further improvements in rates and conditions for those in receipt of supplementary pensions and unemployment assistance. Food prices were stabilised in December 1939, initially as temporary measure, but made permanent in August 1940, while both milk and meals were provided at subsidised prices, or free in those cases of real need.
In July 1940, increased Treasury grants led to an improvement in the supply of milks and meals in schools, with the number of meals taken doubled within a year and increased school milk by 50%. By 1945, roughly 33% of all children ate at school compared with one in thirty in 1940, while those taking milk increased from about 50% to roughly 75%. In 1940, a national milk scheme was launched which provided a pint of milk at about half price for all children under the age of five, and for expectant or nursing mothers. The take up rate was such that by 1944 95% of those eligible participated in the scheme. The government’s general food policy that priority groups like young children and mothers were not just entitled to essentials like milk, but actually received supplies as well. Evacuation during the course of the war also revealed to more prosperous Britons the extent of deprivation in society. As noted by one historian, evacuation became “the most important subject in the social history of the war because it revealed to the whole people the black spots in its social life.”
An Emergency Medical Service was introduced which provided free treatment to casualties (a definition which included war evacuees), while rationing led to significant improvements in the diets of poor families. As noted by Richard Titmuss,
"The families in that third of the population of Britain who in 1938 were chronically undernourished had their first adequate diet in 1940 and 1941 ... [after which] the incidence of deficiency diseases, and notably infant mortality, dropped dramatically."
The Labour Party eventually also adopted the Beveridge proposals, and after their victory in the 1945 general election, they proceeded to implement many social policies, which became known as the Welfare State. These included the Family Allowances Act 1945, National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act 1946, National Insurance Act 1946, National Health Service Act 1946, Pensions (Increase) Act 1947, Landlord and Tenant (Rent Control) Act 1949, National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act 1948, National Insurance Act 1949.
- Brian Abel‐Smith, "The Beveridge report: Its origins and outcomes." International Social Security Review (1992) 45#1‐2 pp 5-16.
- Correlli Barnett, The Audit of War (Pan, 2001), pp. 26-27.
- Barnett, p. 29.
- Barnett, p. 30.
- Barnett, p. 31.
- Barnett, pp. 31-32.
- Beveridge, Power and Influence.
- Foundations of the Welfare State by Pat Thane
- Mastering Economic and Social History by David Taylor
- The Coming of the Welfare State by Maurice Bruce
- The Evolution of the British Welfare State by Derek Fraser
- The Five Giants: A Biography of the Welfare State by Nicholas Timmins
- Abel‐Smith, Brian. "The Beveridge report: Its origins and outcomes." International Social Security Review (1992) 45#1‐2 pp 5-16. online
- Addison, Paul. The Road to 1945 (Jonathan Cape, 1975).
- Beveridge, Janet. Beveridge and His Plan (Hodder & Stoughton, 1954).
- Harris, Jose. William Beveridge. A Biography (Clarendon Press, 1997).
- Hills, John, John Ditch, and Howard Glennerster, eds. Beveridge and Social security: An international retrospective (Oxford University Press, 1994)
- Timmins, Nicholas. The Five Giants: A Biography of the Welfare State (HarperCollins, New Edition, 2001)