Sir William Beveridge
“A momentous document, which should and must exercise a profound and immediate influence on the direction of social change in Britain.”
– London Times, greeting publication of the Beveridge Report in 1942
“ . . . organisation of social insurance should be treated as one part only of a comprehensive policy of social progress. Social insurance fully developed may provide income security; it is an attack upon Want. But Want is one only of five giants on the road of reconstruction and in some ways the easiest to attack. The others are disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness.”
– extract from the 1942 Report
William Beveridge’s 1942 Report wasn’t the only pamphlet that he produced reflecting on social welfare and what changes could be made for the better in Britain but it is by far the most well-known. To give the report its full title, ‘Report on Social Insurance and Allied Services,’ it formed the basis of the 1945-51 Labour government’s legislative programme for social reform. Its publication caused a huge stir in a Britain still mired in the Second World War with its people wondering what the outcome would be. It gave those at home and those in the armed forces serving abroad a sense of what kind of ideal new society and way of life for which they were actually fighting – something completely different from how society had been before. It became a bestseller in an era before the creation of the paperback.
The impetus behind Beveridge’s thinking was social justice. He believed that the discovery of objective socio-economic laws could solve the problems of society. Beveridge saw full employment as the pivot of the social welfare programme and another pamphlet, ‘Full Employment in a Free Society’ published in 1944, expressed how this goal might be gained.
He was critical of shortcomings in social legislation after 1945 and his ‘Voluntary Action’ pamphlet published in 1948 defended the role of the private sector in the provision of social welfare. In later years Beveridge devoted himself to a history of prices, the first volume of which, ‘Prices and Wages in England from the Twelfth to the Nineteenth Century,’ was published in 1939.