William Beveridge on the Six Great Evils

I also found this piece by William Beveridge, the author of the Beveridge Report, which laid the foundation for welfare state and the NHS, in the Penguin Book of Protest, edited by Brian MacArthur. In it Beveridge attacks the six great evils his welfare reforms were intended to combat.

My case is that this is very far from being the best of all possible worlds, but that it might be a very good world, because most of the major evils in it are unnecessary – either wholly so or to the extent to which they exist today. The evils which are wholly unnecessary and should be abolished are Want, Squalor, Idleness enforced by unemployment, and War. The evils which are unnecessary to the extent to which they exist today and which should be reduced drastically are Disease and Ignorance.

The six Giant Evils of Want, Squalor, Disease, Ignorance, Idleness and War as they exist in the modern world, are six needless scandals. The Radical Programme which I propose to you is a war on these six giants. As a Liberal I propose it as a programme for the Liberal Party. Let me take the giants in turn, beginning with the easiest to attack.

Want means not having enough money income to buy the necessaries of life for oneself and one’s family. Want in Britain just before this was utterly unnecessary. The productive power of the community was far more than enough to provide the bare necessaries of life to everyone (that, of course, is something quite different from satisfying the desires of everyone). Want arose because income – purchasing power to buy necessaries – was not properly distributed, between different sections of the people and between different periods in life, between times of earning and not earning, between times of no family responsibilities and large family responsibilities.

Before this war, as is said in the Beveridge Report, ‘want was a needless scandal due to not taking the trouble to prevent it’. After this war, if want persists, it will be ever more of a scandal. it is contrary to reason and experience to suppose that, with all that we have learned in war, we shall be less productive after it than before. And we know also just how to prevent want – by adopting Social Security in full as set out in the Beveridge Report. This means guaranteeing to every citizen through social insurance that, on condition of working while he can and contributing from his earnings, he shall, when he is unable to work through sickness, accident, unemployment or old age, have a subsistence income for himself and his family, an income as of right without means test, and not cut down because he has other means…

Squalor means the conditions under which so many of our people are compelled to live, in houses ill-built, too small, too close together, either too far from work or too far from country air, with the air around them polluted by smoke, impossible to keep clean, with no modern equipment to save the housewife’s toil, wasting the life and energy of the wage-earner in endless crowded travel to and from his job. Squalor is obviously unnecessary, because the housing which leads to squalor is made by man, and that which is made by man can by man prevented.

The time has come for a revolution in housing, but an essential condition of good housing is town and country planning; to stop the endless growth of the great cities; to control the location of industry so that men can live both near their work and near country air; to manage transport in the national interest, so as to bring about the right location of industry.

Only on the basis of town and country planning should we build our houses and they must be built not just shells, but fully equipped with every modern convenience, with water, light, power, model kitchens for clean cooking, refrigerators, mechanical washers for clothes. As is said in the Beveridge Report: ‘In the next thirty years housewives as mothers have vital work to do to ensure the adequate continuance of the British race and of British ideals in the world.’ They must be set free from needless endless toil, so that they may undertake this vital service and rear in health and happiness the larger families that are needed.

A revolution in housing is the greatest contribution that can be made to raising the standard of living throughout this country, for differences of housing represent the greatest differences between various sections of our people today, between the comfortable and the uncomfortable classes.

Disease cannot be abolished completely , but is needless to anything like its present extent. It must be attacked from many sides by measures for prevention and for cure. The housing revolution, of which I have spoken, is perhaps the greatest of all the measures for prevention of disease. It has been estimated that something like 45,000 people die each year because of bad housing conditions. Scotland – your country and my country – used to be a healthier land than England – with a lower death rate – till about fifty years ago. Now it has a higher death rate, because in the past fifty years its health has not improved nearly as much as that of England. The big difference between the two countries lies in housing, which in many ways is worse here. Let us put that right for our country. Next to better housing as a means of preventing disease ranks better feeding. Experience of war has shown how much can be done to maintain and improve health under the most unfavourable conditions by a nutrition policy carried out by the state on the basis of science. It is essential for the future to make good food available for all, at prices within the reach of all, and to encourage, by teaching and by price policy good nutrition instead of mere eating and drinking.

Ignorance cannot be abolished completely, but is needless to anything like its present extent. Lack of opportunity to use abilities is one of the greatest causes of unhappiness. A revolution in education is needed, and the recent Education Act should be turned into the means of such a revolution. Attacking ignorance means not only spending money on schools and teachers and scholars in youth, but providing also immensely greater facilities for adult education. The door of learning should not shut for anyone at eighteen or at any time. Ignorance to its present extent is not only unnecessary, but dangerous. Democracies cannot be well governed except on the basis of understanding.

With these measure for prevention must go also measure for cure, by establishing a national health service which secure to every citizen at all times whatever treatment he needs, at home or in hospital, without a charge at the time of treatment. It should be the right and the duty of every British citizen to be as well as science can make him. This, too, was included in my report more than two years ago. Let Us get on with it.

Unemployment, as we have had it in the past, is needless. The way to abolish unemployment is not to attack it directly by waiting until people are unemployed and then to make work for them, but to plan to use the whole of our manpower in the pursuit of vital common objectives.

The Radical Programme for attacking the five giants of Want, Squalor, Disease, Ignorance and Idleness through unemployment is all one programme. We abolish unemployment in war because we are prepared to spend up to the limit of our manpower in abolishing Hitler. We can equally abolish unemployment in peace by deciding to spend up to the limit of our manpower in abolishing social evils.

The last and the greatest of the giant evils of the world is War. Unless we can win freedom from war and from fear of war, all else is vain. The way to abolish murder and violence between nations is the same as that by which we abolish murder and violence between individuals, by establishing the rule of law between nations. This is a task beyond the power of any nation but it is within the power of the three great victorious nations of this war – the United States, Soviet Russia and the British Commonwealth. If those three nations wish to abolish war in the future they can do so, by agreeing to accept impartial justice in their own case and to enforce justice in all other cases, but respecting the freedom and independence of small nations and the right of each nation to have its own institutions so long as these do not threaten harm to its neighbours. By doing so, they will accomplish something far more glorious than any victory in war. In the past statesmen have prided themselves in getting ‘Peace with honour’. The formula of the future – the only one that can give us lasting peace – should be ‘Peace with justice’. Honour is national, justice is international. (pp. 173-5).

As you can see, it’s quite dated in its conception of gender roles – men go out to work, while women stay at home and raise the large families the state and society need. And after the Nazis and Fascist groups like them, any talk of national ‘races’ looks extremely sinister, though there isn’t any racist undertones here.

And Beveridge was exactly right about the evils he wanted to combat, and they’re still very much alive now. Nutrition and pricing have all returned with the campaign to improve a tax on sugary foods and drinks, and so combat the obesity epidemic and rising levels of diabetes.

And the other issues have all returned thanks to Maggie Thatcher. She deregulated and privatised public transport, which has led to further inefficiencies on the roads and railways. She and the regimes that have followed her were and are determined to destroy the welfare state, including the health service, which Cameron and Clegg both wanted to privatise.

And the result has been rising levels of poverty. It’s time we scrapped Thatcherism root and branch, and went back to the founding principles of the welfare state. The principles that were put into practice by Labour’s Aneurin Bevan.

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2 Responses to “William Beveridge on the Six Great Evils”

  1. katythenightowl Says:

    I couldn’t have said it any better 🙂

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