The Beveridge Society Inaugural Conference
24 November 2007, London
Title: What would William Beveridge do now?
Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP
Professor Peter Beresford OBE, Brunel University
Clockwise from top left: Professor Alan Lee Williams OBE, Chair, Sir William Beveridge Foundation; scene from the reception following the conference at the Institution of Chartered Engineers, Westminster; (from left) Rahman Jilani, Founder and Executive Director of the Beveridge Foundation; Baroness Uddin of Bethnal Green; Professor Alan Lee Williams OBE; Professor Peter Beresford OBE, Director, Centre for Citizen Participation, Brunel University; Rahman Jilani addressing the conference; The Sir William Beveridge Foundation team; a question from the audience to the speakers; Professor Peter Beresford OBE; Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP; the audience; another question to the speakers.
(Photographs: David Rose)
“See the whole person, not just a bag of rights and needs . . . but holistically as spiritual, physical, social and active beings who all have a part to play as well as needing help and support every so often. The holistic approach underpinned the hospice movement and this is the road William Beveridge leads us to.”
This was the conclusion of Professor Peter Beresford OBE, Director of the Centre for Citizen Participation at Brunel University, in his presentation at the inaugural conference of The Beveridge Society held in London towards the end of November 2007. Professor Beresford also said that he was speaking “as a child of the welfare state and proud to be a beneficiary.”
The Beveridge Society is the public relations wing of the Foundation and will be organising and hosting a series of conferences and seminars each year. Attendance is usually by invitation only that means each of the audiences contains people of wide-ranging backgrounds and experience so adding to the tenor and interest of each event that includes question and answer sessions with the main speakers. Those attending the inaugural conference included local councillors and council officials; trade unionists; academics; MPs and peers; representatives from a number of embassies with bases in London; social care practitioners and representatives of a number of charities and other voluntary organisations.
Professor Beresford was one of the speakers on the bill along with the Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP, ex-leader of the Conservative Party and Director of the Centre for Social Justice. The theme of the conference was ‘What would William Beveridge do now?’ with the aim of concluding whether any of the ‘five giants’ identified in his 1942 Report had been slain, if there were any still to be tackled and if any new ones had emerged since it was published. The conference, and reception that followed it, took place in the magnificent surroundings of The Chartered Institution of Civil Engineers in Great George Street, Westminster only a short distance away from the Houses of Parliament.
The 1942 Beveridge Report – ‘a momentous document which should and must exercise a profound and immediate influence on the direction of social change in Britain’ as The Manchester Times described it then – summarised the problems facing people living in Britain during the years leading up to the Second World War and did so in five words: ‘want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness.’ Bear in mind that Beveridge was using the language of his time. But these five giants encapsulated all the problems facing the British population before 1939. Students of British social history, and those who lived through it, will be only too well aware of the drastic poverty and hardship that many people in the UK faced in the 1920s and 30s.
“You have to understand the context in which Beveridge’s Report was published,” said Professor Beresford in his presentation. “It came out just after the first major victory of the Second World War at El Alamein – it was a talking point in the trenches, on the airfields and even on popular radio programmes of the time. It became a best seller with 600,000 copies snapped up and this at a time before the paperback book came in.”
Professor Beresford went on to say that the big difference between Beveridge’s era and ours is that they wanted to do things to help people whereas now, he maintained, policy should be there to help people control things for themselves. The failure to do this the Professor saw as one of the giants to be tackled today.
“Public/patient and service user involvement are essential in policy and provision of services,” Professor Beresford argued, “in order to achieve equity. The new social policy pioneers are the elderly; disabled; those with learning disabilities and mental health issues; people with HIV Aids – all people previously written off as incapable are now spearheading reforms that are being written into new legislation. This points the way forward to a truly welfare society, rather than a reactionary nostalgia for pre-welfare state days.”
Beveridge’s ideas for tackling the five ‘giants’ were revolutionary. His Report dismissed the old dogmatic ways of thinking and heralded the introduction of the Welfare State, including the National Health Service, that blew a wind of such enormous change through the UK establishment that we are still feeling it today.
But was it introduced by Attlee’s newly-elected 1945 Labour government in the way that William Beveridge had intended? The other main speaker at the conference, Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP, had his doubts. He believed that the Labour government, out of necessity of the times, moved ahead quickly to enact Beveridge’s proposals but then, in doing so, believes they missed out an important element.
“In slaying giants, Beveridge made himself one,” he told the audience. “But we must stand on Beveridge’s shoulders in order to move to the next stage.”
Iain Duncan Smith revealed that he had re-read two of Beveridge’s 1942 reports – ‘Social Insurance and Allied Services’ and ‘Full Employment in a Free Society’ – that he revealed were not contained in one volume and neither of which mentioned the words ‘welfare state.’
“There was a third report published by Beveridge in 1948,” he said, “called ‘Voluntary Action.’ It was written as a reaction to the enactment of welfare legislation by the Attlee government. Beveridge did not see the state as having so much control and thus leaving no room for a voluntary element. He saw bigger voluntary action outside the home, as an individual and in association with others to better everyone’s lives, as distinguishing marks of a free society and had been outstanding features of British life.
“Beveridge believed, as I do, that the voluntary sector had been pushed to the margins of political discourse – this would remain the case for the rest of the 20th century.”
Iain Duncan Smith believed that contemporary Britain faced a new set of giants: family breakdown; educational failure; economic dependency and worthlessness; addictions (alcohol, drugs and gambling) and serious personal debt – what he termed a ‘cycle of deprivation.’ He concluded his presentation with the view that we must rid ourselves of the “obsession that all welfare begins and ends with the state – it doesn’t. Most of it begins and continues in a thing called the welfare society.”
The main conference chair was Professor Alan Lee Williams OBE, chair of the Sir William Beveridge Foundation with Baroness Uddin of Bethnal Green overseeing the presentations and question and answer sessions. Rahman Jilani, The Founder and Executive Director of the Sir William Beveridge Foundation, closed the conference with a vote of thanks to the two main speakers and everyone who had attended in helping to make the Society’s inaugural conference such an interesting and enjoyable occasion. He described his plan to use the vision of Sir William Beveridge through the Foundation in helping people not only in the UK but also internationally including Europe, Asia and Africa by initiating and running practical projects around health and social care, education and economic empowerment to ease the suffering of all people, particularly the elderly. The first of these projects will be started in Bangladesh. Standing on his shoulders to see even further.