On Tuesday I’ll be participating in Radio 4’s The State of Welfare. This marks the 70th anniversary of the publication of the Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Social Insurance and Allied Services – better known as the Beveridge Report, something that is generally regarded as laying the foundations of the post-war welfare state.
The State of Welfare will take up most of Radio 4’s morning schedule and I’ll be helping kick if off by providing some context for the Report itself. For December 1942 was a very peculiar year. Britain had been at war for over three years and the Report was published just after victory at El Alamein, which marked, in Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s words, ‘the end of the beginning’. The British people were starting to wonder what their country would be like after the conflict had ended, a conflict that saw them endure all kinds of unprecedented hardships. Would they return to the economic depression and insecurity of the 1930s?
Some on the left and centre-left, like the Liberal Beveridge saw this as their chance to put forward various schemes designed to reconstruct Britain and remake it into a more equal society in which there was social security for all. Others on the right, including Churchill and many others in his party and in industry too claimed the country would be ruined by the expense and the expansion of the state would destroy individual liberty and independence.
The outlines of this wartime debate about Beveridge would be familiar to us today as it raises many of the same issues. The context was however rather different. For the war had encouraged many to see the state in unprecedentedly positive terms – government intervention was after all helping Britain win the war. There was also a sense that Britons were all in it together, that the better off should make sure the poor did not fall below a minimum standard of living.
I have been invited to participate because of my work on politics during the Second World War, and some of my research is contained in this book and this article. The State of Welfare web page also has a number of useful resources, including a recording of the programme.