The welfare state
|On 1 December 1942 the wartime coalition
government published a report entitled 'Social Insurance and
Allied Services'. It had been written by Sir William Beveridge,
a highly regarded economist and expert on unemployment problems.
The Beveridge Report quickly became the blueprint for the modern
British welfare state. More than 40 years later, even a white
on social security drafted by Margaret Thatcher's Conservative
government, which opposed many of the principles behind Beveridge's
work, recognised his report as 'by any measure a landmark'.
The Beveridge Report:
'The Way to Freedom from Want'
'From cradle to grave'
The Beveridge Report aimed to provide a comprehensive system
of social insurance 'from cradle to grave'. It proposed that
all working people should pay a weekly contribution to the
state. In return, benefits would be paid to the unemployed,
the sick, the retired and the widowed. Beveridge wanted to
ensure that there was an acceptable minimum standard of living
in Britain below which nobody fell.
|Although it was a complex document of more than
300 pages, the publication of the Beveridge Report was a huge
success. Opinion polls reported that the majority of the British
public welcomed the report's findings and wished to see them
implemented as quickly as possible. This shows the extent to
which the population had shifted to the Left during the course
of the Second World War. The first postwar election, in June
1945, resulted in a landslide victory for the Labour Party,
who were enthusiastic supporters of the Beveridge Report.
Ministry of National Insurance poster
'The philanthropic highwayman'
|The Beveridge Report, however, was also the result
of longer-term changes in the attitudes of politicians and the
public towards social welfare. In Victorian Britain it had been
common to lay the blame for poverty and unemployment upon the
'idleness' of the individuals concerned. At that time a wide
variety of charitable and philanthropic organisations existed,
and it was not felt that the state needed to provide a comprehensive
system of welfare support.
|By the early years of the 20th century, the rise
of the Labour movement in Britain (not to mention the introduction
of a social insurance system in Bismarck's Germany during the
1880s) was challenging laissez-faire
notions of state involvement in social policy. The Liberal government
of Herbert Asquith (1906-14) introduced a number of measures
- most notably the Old Age Pensions Act (1908) and the National
Insurance Act (1911) - that radically extended welfare rights
in Britain. But neither Act was universal in scope - with both
favouring the 'deserving' sick and unemployed ('deserving' in
that they had previously been in regular employment). But it
was clear that the principle of 'individual liberty' was now
being challenged by a stronger emphasis on collective welfare
Claim under Old Age Pensions Act
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Lloyd George explains
National Insurance, 1912
|The principle of state intervention was established
more firmly during the period between 1914 and 1945. During
the Second World War, for example, the government introduced
free school meals and milk. In addition to the Beveridge Report,
it also sponsored (in 1944) white
on education, strategies for achieving full employment, and
the creation of a national health service. These changing attitudes
to social policy in wartime Britain were reflected in the series
of reforms introduced by the postwar Labour government under
Clement Attlee (1945-51).
|The National Insurance Act (1946),
for example, created a comprehensive system of unemployment,
sickness, maternity and pension benefits funded by employers,
employees and the government. Most famously of all, the National
Health Service (NHS) Act instituted for the first time in Britain
a universal state health service. The Act, which came into force
in July 1948, provided free diagnosis and treatment of illnesses
at home or in hospital, including dental and ophthalmic treatment.
Doctors' poll on NHS
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The doctors' case
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Despite the rising costs of the NHS, the postwar reforms
of the Labour government established a domestic political
consensus that lasted for nearly 30 years. As the sociologist
TH Marshall wrote in 1965, 'it is generally agreed that...
the overall responsibility for the welfare of the citizens
must remain with the state'. Marshall's own concept of 'social
citizenship' - which put forward a new model of citizenship
based on economic and social (as well as political) rights
- was characteristic of this collective approach to social
welfare after 1945.
'Rolling back the state'
The 'social citizenship' model was not really challenged
until the emergence of Margaret Thatcher as Conservative Party
leader (1975) and then Prime Minister (1979). Thatcherism
promised low taxes, less state intervention, and lower levels
of public spending. This involved, in theory at least, substantial
cuts in welfare spending. The succession of Thatcher governments
between 1979 and 1990 became synonymous with the idea of 'rolling
back the state'.
Ministry of Health poster:
'The seven rules of health'
(191k) | Transcript
||Despite cuts in spending on housing and stricter
eligibility rules for benefits, however, the Thatcher revolution
was less radical than either its opponents or its supporters
claimed. Welfare spending in fact remained stationary between
the late 1970s and the late 1980s. Nevertheless, the Thatcher
years eroded the political consensus in favour of the welfare
state. Today, in early-21st-century Britain, the debate on welfare
spending and social policy is no longer centred on Beveridge's
'cradle to grave' principle. It is far more concerned with providing
cost-effective social care, through a mixture of public and
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