The Beveridge report was set up by the wartime coalition to “undertake a survey of the existing national schemes of social insurance and allied services and to make any recommendations.” The Report is regarded as the most significant social policy document of the century. Beveridge emphasised the need to eradicate five major evils, want, squalor, ignorance, disease and idleness, suggesting the ways that this might be achieved by the government. There are several reasons as to why the report triumphed amongst the British public.
The report reflected the mood of the British people in the later years of the war, it outline what many of them felt they were fighting for. The Beveridge report capsulated the idea of a better Britain and that the country would come out of the war and regain its international glory. People didn’t want to return from the war to a land of despair and depression as it had been in the 1930’s. Workers felt that if the Beveridge report was implemented in Britain it would halt a second depression and maintain high levels of employment and sufficient benefits to those unable to work. This ensured the Beveridge Report’s success amongst the workers, as they felt their jobs were secure and they would always be able to provide for their families.
Evacuees in the Second World War had shown the problems in the urban areas of Britain. Children from big industrial towns and cities suffered from ill health due to the high levels of pollutants and lack of medical provisions. For some children it was the first time they saw trees and wild animals, being brought up in the busy urban areas they never got to escape the towns on holidays. Not only did the evacuees show the high levels of ill health amongst urban areas it also highlighted the high levels of poor education. Many children from urban areas gave up on schools at a young age and went on to work rather than studying. The report highlighted areas to improve the health of not only children but of adults living in the cities as well, it also suggested how to improve the levels of education among children in the urban areas of Britain. This helped it to gain popularity with parents across the country.
Whilst the report wasn’t well received by all, many Conservative MP’s and Churchill regarded the proposals put in place by the report as “over ambitious” and “overly expensive.” However the report was well accepted by many other key figures at the time. Member of the Labour party backed the Beveridge report and were committed to implementing the reports suggestions if they got in to power in the next general election. Another key figure at the time, William Temple (Archbishop of Canterbury) also backed the report helping it to gain momentum.
Overall, the report capsulated the mood of the public during the war, its radical approach was similar to the demands from the soldiers at the front line, women working in the ammunitions factories and the children evacuated to the countryside’s. It promised something for everyone from provisions to the young, widowed and elderly. It shined as beacon of light for a better Britain, a more successful and triumphant Britain. This promise of a new land resounded from the people after dealing with the economic crisis brought around by the First World War.
How successful were the Labour governments in implementing the Beveridge Report’s proposals in the years 1945 to 1951?
The Beveridge report identified five ‘giants’ that needed to be tackled in Britain, these included Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness. The Labour Government began to implement several reforms to create a successful welfare state within Britain. The Labour Government was moderately successful in implementing the findings of the Beveridge report.
One major aspect that the Labour Government tried to tackle was disease. The government set about implementing William Beveridge’s plans for the creation of a ‘cradle to grave’ welfare state. Some form of National Health Service had been discussed for several years but the actual NHS that was established was mainly due to the hard work of the Labour Minister for Health and Housing, Aneurin Bevan. The NHS had some very successful aspects but also provoked considerable controversy. Before 1945, health care was not free, National Insurance had provided very limited medical cover but this did not extend to all workers or to wives and children. Doctors and hospital bills could be a heavy burden for many people on lower incomes. This led too many Mothers neglecting their own health so that they could ensure their children were healthy and could afford any treatment if ever required. This is one of the main issues that the NHS would try to put right, it was originally planned to provide people of all ages and backgrounds with free medical care when they needed it. However, when it came to implementing the plans for the NHS it was a long and difficult process.
By 1951 there was a noticeable difference in the increase of standards of healthcare within children across Britain due to the NHS’s free checkups and medical advice. However, the introduction of prescription charges in 1951 was a noticeable downside to the previous success of the NHS. The NHS had been far more expensive than the government had ever planned and to ensure its continual support charges had to be implemented to those who were less vulnerable. There was also a lot of initial opposition from members of the Conservative party and practising doctors. Doctors before had been part of a private health care scheme, this meant they could work the hours they chose and charge as much or as little as they wanted. The NHS removed the freedom that there once was within the medical profession, many were also scared that there would be a vast decrease in their levels of pay. So where as the NHS had helped to increase the living conditions and improved health across Britain it still had some flaws which needed to be worked out before it could be seen as a complete success.
The Labour government also set up a series of reforms affecting the welfare of the general public. The Government decided to extend National Insurance so that it covered everybody during periods of illness, unemployment and old age. Other acts such as the 1946 Industrial Injuries Act covered all professions so that they were given more generous compensation was given to those injured whilst at work. However, these acts were still limited in the cover they gave. Other reforms such as the National Health Service took up more of the government’s time and money so they didn’t have time to truly focus on reforms for within the workplace. Although overall the acts put in place were successful in tackling the burdens as described by the Beveridge report.
The Beveridge report also highlighted the lack of schooling amongst children from working class families. Most children left school before the age of 14, as they were more likely to find work to help with the bills and other financial problems at home. This then in turn meant that they would be unable to gain higher skilled jobs as they lacked the education they would need. The government noticed that it was a vicious cycle and unless they did something it would constantly repeat itself over and over again. As a result the government created the 1944 Education Act, this ensured that all children must stay in school until the age of 15 and made secondary education free for all. Children sat the 11+ which then decided which type of school they should go to whether it be a grammar school, modern school or a technical school. However, the 1944 Education Act had some rather weak aspects to it. The 11+ was a very socially divisive means of testing students. Children from upper class families were better equipped at answering the type of the questions in the exam and as a result it was mainly children from upper class families that went to a grammar school. Therefore the class divisions that the Labour government wanted to eradicate were even more prominent than ever.
Furthermore the reforms put in place to deal with the issue of housing were also marginally successful. The New Towns Act planned to build 20 new towns across Britain, around towns and cities that had been damaged due to the blitz. The government encouraged new industries to move towards the newer towns to ensure a busy and successful community. During the period 1948 – 1951 a total of 200,000 new houses were built per annum. Unfortunately this wasn’t enough to deal with the demand for new housing, the Labour government had set the scheme up to provide enough housing for all but never managed to meet its target. Another problem was that the majority of the houses built by the Labour government during this period were mainly prefab houses and were not built to last. So where as the houses may have been suitable for the time they wouldn’t last for a long period of time and as a result the issue of housing would arise again in the future. So were as the Labour government did attempt to tackle the issue of poor housing in Britain it wasn’t to a great enough extent to completely combat the issue of squalor as identified by the Beveridge report.
Overall, the Labour government were marginally successful in implementing the proposals of the Beveridge report. Whilst they attempted to put in place many reforms to tackle the five giants mentioned they were not carried out to a great enough degree. For example, the NHS was successful in tackling disease in Britain but the fact that it later had to return to a contributory scheme by paying for your own prescriptions meant that it wasn’t a complete success as some people still would be unable to pay for the treatment they would need. More needed to be done by the government to ensure the success of all policies they put in place and perhaps they would have been better to implement them gradually as the economy recovered after the Second World War.