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William Beveridge

William Henry Beveridge (1879-1963) was a British economist and social reformer. He is perhaps best known for his 1942 report Social Insurance and Allied Services (known as the Beveridge Report) which served as the basis for the post-World War II Labour government's Welfare State, including specially the National Health Service.

William Beveridge, the eldest son of a judge in the Indian civil service, was born in Bengal, India, on 5th March 1879. After studying at Charterhouse and Balliol College, Oxford University, he became a lawyer.

Beveridge became interested in the social services[?] and wrote about the subject for the Morning Post[?].

He joined the Board of Trade[?] in 1908, now considered to be the country's leading authority on unemployment insurance and helped organize the implementation of the national system of labour exchanges[?].

In 1909 Beveridge was appointed director of Labour Exchanges and his ideas influenced David Lloyd George and led to the passing of the 1911 National Insurance Act. During the Liberal government of 1906 to 1914 Beveridge was asked to advise David Lloyd George on Old Age Pensions and National Insurance. the government of the period began to take action to combat poverty.

In the World War I (1914-1918) Beveridge was involved in mobilising and controlling man power. After the war, Beveridge was knighted and made permanent secretary to the Ministry of Food.

In 1919 he left the civil service to become director of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Over the next few years he served on several commissions and committees on social policy.

Lord Beveridge was so highly influenced by the Fabian Socialists[?] - in particular by Beatrice Potter Webb, with whom he worked on the 1909 Poor Laws report - that he could readily be counted among them. However, he was perhaps the best economist among them - his early work on unemployment (1909) and his massive historical study of prices and wages (1939) being clear testaments of his scholarship. The Fabians made him a director of the London School of Economics (LSE) in 1919, a post he retained until 1937. His continual jousts with Cannan and Robbins, who were trying to wrench the LSE away from its Fabian roots, are now legendary.

In 1937 Beveridge was appointed Master of University College, Oxford.

Three years later, Ernest Bevin[?], Minister of Labour, asked him to look into existing schemes of social security, which had grown up haphazardly, and make recommendations. In 1941, the government ordered a report into the ways that Great Britain should be rebuilt after World War II, Beveridge was an obvious choice to take charge. The Report to the Parliament on Social Insurance and Allied Services was published in 1942.

The report proposed that all people of working age should pay a weekly contribution. In return, benefits would be paid to people who were sick, unemployed, retired or widowed. Beveridge argued that this system would provide a minimum standard of living "below which no one should be allowed to fall".

Recommended that the government should find ways of fighting the five 'Giant Evils' of Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor[?] and Idleness[?]. This led to the setting up of the modern Welfare State (the culmination of the Fabians' project) with a National Health Service:

19.Plan for social security : XI.Medical treatment covering all requirements will be provided for all citizens by a National Health Service organised under the health departments and post-medical rehabilitation treatment will be provided for all persons capable of profiting by it.

One of its most remarkable assets was the convincing manner of Beveridge's argument which made it so widely acceptable: Beveridge appealed to conservatives and other doubters by arguing that the welfare institutions he proposed would increase the competitiveness of British industry in the post-war period by not only by shifting labour costs like healthcare and pensions out of corporate ledgers and onto the public account but also by producing healthier, wealthier and thus more motivated and productive workers who would also serve as a great source of demand for British goods.

Beveridge saw full employment (which he defined as unemplyment of no more than 3%) as the pivot of the social welfare programme he expressed in the 1942 Beveridge Report, and Full Employment in a Free Society (1944) expressed how this goal might be gained. Alternative measures for achieving it included Keynesian-style fiscal regulation, direct control of manpower, and state control of the means of production. The impetus behind Beveridge's thinking was social justice, and the creation of an ideal new society after the war. He believed that the discovery of objective socio-economic laws could solve the problems of society.

Beveridge was a Liberal Member of Parliament from 1944-45. In 1946 he was created a baron.

A second report, Full Employment in a Free Society, appeared in 1944. Later that year, Beveridge, a member of the Liberal Party, was elected to the House of Commons.

The following year the new Labour Government began the process of implementing Beveridge's proposals that provided the basis of the modern Welfare State. In 1945 Clement Attlee and the Labour Party defeated Winston Churchill's Conservative Party in the General Election. Attlee announced he would introduce the Welfare State outlined in the 1942 Beveridge Report. This included the establishment of a National Health Service in 1948 with free medical treatment for all. A national system of benefits was also introduced to provide 'social security' so that the population would be protected from the 'cradle to the grave'. The new system was partly built on the National Insurance scheme set up by Lloyd George in 1911.

Beveridge was created Baron Beveridge of Tuggal and eventually became leader of the Liberals in the House of Lords. William Beveridge, the author of Power and Influence (1953), died on 16th March 1963.

Major Works

  • Unemployment: A problem of industry, 1909.
  • Prices and Wages in England from the Twelfth to the Nineteenth Century, 1939.
  • Social Insurance and Allied Services, 1942. (Beveridge Report) - excerpts (executive summary)
  • Full Employment in a Free Society, 1944.
  • The Economics of Full Employment, 1944.

See also

External links



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