1 December 1942: the Beveridge Report proposes a welfare state for Britain

With the Second World War still raging, the popular Beveridge Report was published on this day in 1942, proposing a welfare state be set up after the war.

With the Second World War in its third year, Britain turned its thoughts to what life would be like after the war had been won. It was “a revolutionary moment in the world's history”, said respected economist William Beveridge, “a time for revolutions, not patching”. In other words, the time was ripe to build a better society.

The problem, said Beveridge, was that there were five “giants” holding back progress: want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness. These could be conquered with “co-operation between the state and the individual”.

In return for a monthly payment, the state had a duty to provide social welfare to those who needed it, but it could not be so much that it would “stifle incentive, opportunity, and responsibility”. That was the central message of Beveridge's report into Social Insurance and Allied Services, published on 1 December 1942.

The Beveridge Report, as it was known, was enthusiastically received by a public that had endured months of wartime privations and misery. It called for a national health service and a welfare system “from the cradle to the grave” that paid out 24 shillings a week for a single person on unemployment benefit (40 shillings for a husband and wife), eight shillings per child in family allowance, and a state pension that guaranteed a minimum standard of living.

None of this was going to come cheap, of course. The prime minister, Winston Churchill, urged restraint, and asked the public to prioritise post-war reconstruction. The public responded by voting Churchill out of office in July 1945.

For that year in 1945, the Beveridge Report estimated its recommendations would cost £697m – roughly £30bn in today's money. Since then, with people living longer and more people retired, welfare costs have soared. In 2017, £264bn was spent on welfare payment,s including £11bn on pensions, accounting for 35% of all government spending, according to the Office for National Statistics. And in 2019, £115bn was spent on the NHS in England. 

Recommended

House prices: from boom to even bigger boom
House prices

House prices: from boom to even bigger boom

UK house prices have risen to new to record highs, says Nicole Garcia Merida. Demand continues to outpace supply, but continued low interest rates, th…
9 Apr 2021
1 April 1999: The minimum wage is introduced in Britain
This day in history

1 April 1999: The minimum wage is introduced in Britain

On this day in 1999, the national minimum wage was introduced in Britain, bringing an instant pay rise to 1.9 million low-paid workers.
1 Apr 2021
How the vaccine wars will harm us all
Global Economy

How the vaccine wars will harm us all

Grabbing and hoarding vaccine supplies, or even manufacturing one’s own, might seem to make sense for a state in an emergency. But the damage done to …
27 Mar 2021
House price rise slows – but not by much
House prices

House price rise slows – but not by much

The rate of increase in UK house prices slowed in the year to January. But nothing seems able to halt their determined march higher, says Nicole Garci…
26 Mar 2021

Most Popular

The bitcoin bubble will burst: here’s how to play it
Bitcoin

The bitcoin bubble will burst: here’s how to play it

The cryptocurrency’s price has soared far beyond its fundamentals, says Matthew Partridge. Here, he looks at how to short bitcoin.
12 Apr 2021
Central banks are rushing to build digital currencies. What are they, and what do they mean for you?
Bitcoin

Central banks are rushing to build digital currencies. What are they, and what do they mean for you?

As bitcoin continues to soar in value, many of the world’s central banks are looking to emulate it by issuing their own digital currencies. But centra…
8 Apr 2021
Four investment trusts for income investors to buy now
Investment trusts

Four investment trusts for income investors to buy now

Some high-yielding listed lending funds have come through the crisis with flying colours. David Stevenson picks four of the best.
12 Apr 2021