Government responses

Lord Beveridge working at his desk
Lord Beveridge

The UK's welfare state has its roots in the proposals put forward by Lord Beveridge during World War Two. The UK had to be rebuilt following the destruction by the war. There was a collective national sacrifice to win the war, so it was felt there should be a collective national ‘safety net’, paid for by taxation and national insurance contributions, to support people.

The Government would try to ensure that everyone had the basic needs in life, housing, education and health care from “the cradle to the grave”. But Beveridge could not foresee how UK society would change between World War Two and today.

  • Life expectancy for men and women has risen dramatically with implications for the cost of pensions
  • There has been a large growth in the number of lone parents leading to a knock-on effect on benefit costs such as housing and council tax benefits
  • Millions of people are now unemployed, something Beveridge did not imagine and the costs of unemployment are considerable for government

There have also been new challenges to the welfare state such as drug addiction, obesity and the problem of families who have no experience of the disciplines of work. Advances in medicine have also put strain on the NHS, with patients looking to receive life prolonging treatments which can be very expensive. While most people in the UK support the welfare state, there is a constant tension between those who work and pay taxes for benefits and those who do not work and receive them.

Current UK statistics: -

  • Unemployment is now 1.44 million
  • Life expectancy for babies born in 2018 - 79.2 for men and 82.9 for women
  • In 1962 lone parent families accounted for 2.5% of all families. In 2016 lone parent families accounted for 25%

Tackling poverty

Boarded up shops in a run-down High Street
Boarded up shops in a run-down High Street

Successive governments have believed getting people back into work is the best way to tackle poverty. However the credit crunch of 2008 and the subsequent economic difficulties saw unemployment rise. This makes it difficult for the long term unemployed to find work as they are competing against others with more recent and better work experience and qualifications.

Whilst helping those to find work, the welfare state continues to support the unemployed with a range of benefits. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has responsibility for benefits and for getting people back to work. The welfare budget accounts for 14% of all government spending. The Conservatives have made reforming welfare a priority. Their aim us to get more people back to work.