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Timeline - 1939-1945

Fact File : Beveridge Report

November 1942

Location: Britain
Players: Sir William Beveridge
Outcome: The Beveridge Report led to the establishment of a system of social security and the National Health Service after the end of the war.

Sir William Beveridge (1879-1963) addresses the audience at a Liberal meeting at the Caxton Hall in London, 1943
Sir William Beveridge (1879-1963) addresses the audience at a Liberal meeting at the Caxton Hall in London, 1943©
The Beveridge Report was presented by its author, Sir William Beveridge, to the British parliament in November 1942. It provided a summary of principles necessary to banish poverty and 'want' from Britain - Beveridge's mantra throughout the report was 'Abolition of want'. The paper proposed a system of social security which would be operated by the state, to be implemented at war's end.

It was a radical report. From the outset Beveridge insisted that war provided an opportunity to make good:

'Now, when the war is abolishing landmarks of every kind, is the opportunity for using experience in a clear field. A revolutionary moment in the world's history is a time for revolutions, not for patching.'

Beveridge argued for social progression which required a coherent government policy: '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.'

His argument was based on social surveys that had been carried out between the wars. These surveys covered topics of poverty as well as old age and low birth rates. The problem of a diminishing population, Beveridge argued, made it 'imperative to give first place in social expenditure to the care of childhood and to the safeguarding of maternity'. Other areas covered were unemployment, disability and retirement. A large section of the report describes the economic situation and his vision for provision rates of benefit and contribution and how they might be managed.

In 1945, Clement Attlee and the Labour Party defeated Winston Churchill's Conservative Party in the election. Attlee announced the introduction of the Welfare State as outlined in the 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'.

Today, the ideas that were outlined in the Beveridge Report are still considered to provide the foundation of the modern Welfare State.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.


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