Posts Tagged ‘Sir William Beveridge’

The Immense Popularity of the Beveridge Report, and its Reception by Labour and the Tories

March 11, 2016

A week or so ago I had a debate on here with a critic, who objected to my crediting Aneurin Bevan with the creation of the NHS. He asserted that the Beveridge Report, on which the NHS is based, was a policy of the wartime National Government, and also had Conservative support.

This is true. However, the Beveridge Report was based on the work of Sidney and Beatrice Webb and the Socialist Medical Association, who had been demanding a free medical service for decades. Indeed, a free health service had been Labour party policy since the 1930s. And while the Tories in the Coalition government also supported Beveridge’s outline of the welfare state, it had particularly strong support in the Labour party.

Pauline Gregg in her book, The Welfare State, describes the massive popularity the Beveridge Report enjoyed with just about all parts of the British population on pages 19-20.

On November 20, 1942, only seventeen months after the appointment of the Committee, it was ready and signed. On December 2, it was made available to the public, and seen at once to go even beyond the expectations of The Times. Though called, simply, Social Insurance and Allied Services, it was an eloquent cry to end poverty, disease, and unemployment, and purported to supply the means of doing so. Its appeal was instantaneous. Queues besieged the Stationary Office in Kingsway. Not only the Press but BBC news bulletins summarized the Report. Brendan Bracken, the Minister of Information, needed only a few hours in which to perceive its enormous propaganda value, and soon it was being trumpeted across the world in many languages. At the cost of 2s, the then normal price of a government White Paper, it immediately became a best-seller at home and abroad, the subject of leading articles, letters to the Press, speeches and discussions at every level of society. Beveridge himself explained his Plan to millions on the radio and on the cinema screen, as well as addressing countless meetings. In twelve months 256,000 copies of the full Report were sold, 369,000 copies of an abridged edition, 40,000 copies of an American edition. Permission was given for translation into Spanish, Portuguese, and German. Translations were published in Argentina, Brazil, Portugal, Mexico, and Switzerland. Parts 1 and VI were translated into Czech, the abridgement into Italian and Chinese.

The Trades Union Congress and the Co-operative Party gave it their blessing. the National Council of Labour, representing all the bodies of organized Labour, called for the legislation necessary to implement the Report at an early date. The Liberal Party supported it, and through Geoffrey Mander welcomed the general principles of “that momentous report”. A group of young Tories tabled a motion in the House of Commons requiring the Government “to set up forthwith the proposed Ministry of Social Security for the purpose of giving effect to the principles of the Report”. “We believe”, said Quintin Hogg, who sponsored this motion, “the keynote of the restatement of political controversy after the war to be practical idealism.” The Beveridge scheme, said another Tory Member of Parliament, “touches the individual life of every man, woman and child in the country and reaches deep down into the homes of the people”. The Labour Party made the Report peculiarly its own. “It expresses”, said Sydney Silverman at its Conference in 1943, “the basic principle of this Party, the only thing which entitled us at the beginning and entitles us now to regard ourselves as fundamentally different from all other parties.” The Report, wrote The Times, had changed the phrase “freedom from want” from a vague though deeply felt aspiration into a plainly realizable project of national endeavour. “Sir William Beveridge and his colleagues have put the nation deeply in their debt, not mere for a confident assurance that the poor need not always be with us, but far a masterly exposition of the ways and means whereby the fact and the fear of involuntary poverty can be speedily abolished altogether.” The Report, it concluded, “is a momentous document which should and must exercise a profound and immediate influence on the direction of social changes in Britain.

Gregg notes on page 23 that in the House of Commons, when it came to a vote only a minority voted for the immediate implementation of the policy. In the end the Labour Party tabled an amendment calling for the early implementation of Beveridge’s plan as a test of Parliament’s sincerity. She also notes on page 25 that many Tory MPs voted against the motion as a reaction against the Plan’s support by Labour.

Meanwhile the Labour amendment was put to the House of Commons. “The Beveridge Plan”, said James Griffiths, moving it, “has become in the minds of the people and the nation both a symbol and a test. It has become, first of all symbol of the kind of Britain we are determined to build when the victory is won, a Britain in which the mass of the people shall ensured security from preventable want. Almost … every comment that has been made in the Press and on the platform since the Report was issued, the widespread interest taken in it and in its proposals, and the almost universal support given to it, are clear indications that the Report and the plan meet a deep-felt need in the minds and hearts of our people.”

But the effect of calling upon a Labour amendment was to unite the Tories against it, in spite of their own speeches, and Griffiths’ amendment was lost by 335 votes to 119, leaving the original non-committal motion to stand. It was a regrettable position. After the welcome and the publicity given to Beveridge’s proposals, and the high hopes raised, the Report was accepted by then sent to another Committee at Whitehall, who spent nearly two years considering it. Further consideration of details had, indeed, been assumed by its author. But the impression given was of shelving the Report, of wriggling out of the proposals. “This”, said Griffiths after the counting of the votes in the House of Commons,” makes the return of the Labour Party to power at the next election an absolute certainty.”

(My emphasis).

The commenter also found my story, about how the pharmacist father of one of my mother’s friends declared he was going to vote Labour because so many people needed the NHS ‘absurd’. This was presumably because he couldn’t accept the idea of a true-blue Tory businessman ever voting Labour. But this paragraph shows this was pretty much what did happen, and the government knew it the moment the Tories voted against the Labour motion.

As for Sydney Silverman’s statement that support for the welfare state is what makes the Labour party fundamentally different from all other parties, it’s a pity that this wasn’t taken on board by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown when they decided to continue Thatcher’s programme of dismantling the welfare state and privatising the NHS. And it’s a pit that it isn’t recognised by Bliar’s successors – Liz Kendall and now Dan Jarvis.

The Foundation of the NHS: The Conservatives’ Reaction to the Beveridge Report

February 16, 2016

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been discussing the origins of the NHS with a presumably Tory critic, who took issue with my statement that Nye Bevan is the NHS’ founder. Among his other points, he argues that Winston Churchill was in favour of it, and the NHS would have happened regardless of who was in government at the time.

I have argued that Churchill was in fact highly ambivalent about it. Sometimes he was for it, at other times against. G.C. Peden, in his British Economic and Social Policy: Lloyd George to Margaret Thatcher (Oxford: Philip Allan Publishers Limited 1985) has this to say about the public and the government’s response to the report.

The focus for discussion of postwar social planning was the Beveridge Report on Social Insurance and Allied Services (Cmd. 6404). The Report appeared in December 1942, at a time when ultimate victory could be foreseen and when new incentives had to be found to maintain the war effort. Despite this, the Government was cautious, if not openly hostile, to Beveridge’s proposals for universal social insurance, without means test, against interruption of earning due to unemployment, ill health or old age. It was true that the Anglo-American peace aims in the ‘Atlantic Charter’ of 1941 had included a reference to ‘social security’ but Churchill thought that such plans should be substantially left until after the War. As Harris (1977) has shown, the Beveridge Report had been very much Sir William Beveridge’s own handiwork. His committee had been expected to deal with technical questions related to workmen’s compensation for industrial disease or injury, and with anomalies in social insurance, such as the well-known one whereby a man whose earning were interrupted because of unemployment received a higher rate of benefit than if he were sick. Beveridge, however, had gone beyond his terms of reference and had called for an attack on Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness as well as Want – the five giants on the road of reconstruction, as he called them in Bunyanesque language. In particular, he stated that no satisfactory scheme of social security could be devised unless there were family allowances, comprehensive health and rehabilitation services, and avoidance of mass unemployment. Indeed, the actuarial soundness of Beveridge’s plan depended upon the average rate of unemployment being no higher than the lowest level in the 1930s; that is 10 per cent of interwar insured labour force or 8.5 per cent of the wider body of insured employees in the new scheme (Cmd 6404, pp. 120, 154-65, 185-6). Uncertainty whether unemployment could be controlled, and memories of the political consequences of an actuarially unsound unemployment insurance fund in 1931, no doubt contributed to the Treasury’s critical reception of the Report.

Nevertheless there can be little doubt that the Report was extremely popular with the general public and, following a backbench revolt in parliament, the Government felt compelled to commit itself to Beveridge’s plan, at least in principle. Widespread support for universal social insurance without means test may have been the result of what Titmuss called a ‘war-warmed impulse of people for a more generous society’. On the other hand, the fact that so many people in the armed forces and munitions industries could not but be uncertain about their own post-war employment, in the light of post-1918 experience, must have been a factor. In the interwar years the unemployed had always been a minority of the electorate; in the war those who felt threatened by unemployment may well have been a majority. Moreover, the associated prospect of universal health insurance may well have been attractive to people had been finding the cost of private health insurance a burden.

Key interest groups were also generally in favour of Beveridge’s ideas. The evidence presented to Beveridge’s committee showed that hardly any trade unions opposed extensions of national insurance and even business witnesses generally favoured more intervention by the state in matters relating to national efficiency. The one business group clearly adversely affected by Beveridge’s proposals were the industrial insurance companies which had helped to administer national health insurance since 1912. Beveridge not only recommended their exclusion from this, but he also proposed that national insurance should cover workmen’s compensation and funeral grants, thus taking away business from the companies. These seem, however, no longer to have had the influence they had had in Lloyd George’s time, and the state no longer needed their administrative expertise. Wartime experience had created new attitudes about what the state could achieve. All this does not mean, however, that there was necessarily a consensus in favour of a ‘welfare state’ except in the most general terms. Looking at Beveridge’s five giants in turn, one finds that sometimes proposals were agreed for differing motives, or on an inadequate basis, and that sometimes there were serious disagreements between Conservative and Labour members of the Coalition government.

For all its reservations on Beveridge’s main proposals, the Government did agree in principle with his assumption that there should be a comprehensive health service available to all, without any conditions of insurance contributions. The trouble was that it proved to be impossible during the war for the details of such a service to be agreed, either between political parties or with the interest groups involved. Certainly war had increased the state’s role. Greatly exaggerated prewar estimates of numbers of casualties in air raids had led to the provision of 80,000 Emergency Hospital Service beds, compared with 78,000 beds in voluntary hospitals and 320,000 in local authority hospitals. Moreover, the Emergency Hospital Service gradually extended its operations from war casualties to treatment of sick people transferred from inner city hospitals and then to other evacuees. In discussions in 1943-45 on a future national health service, however, both Conservative ministers and the British Medical Association showed themselves to be determined to safeguard private practice and the independence of the voluntary hospitals. In particular, there were deep differences between successive Conservative ministers of health, Ernest Brown and Henry Willink, who were responsible for health services in England and Wales, and the Labour Secretary of State for Scotland, Tom Johnson, who was responsible for health services north of the border. For example, Johnson successfully opposed the idea of maintenance charges for patients in hospital. The 1944 White Paper on A National Health Service (Cmd 6502), which was signed by Willink and Johnston, left much undecided and was avowedly only a consultative document.
(pp 139-40).

The National Health Service Act of 1946, and its implementation on the Appointed Day in 1948, was a considerable achievement of Aneurin Bevan, the Minister of Health. Bevan’s original nation health proposals differed from those of Willink, his Conservative predecessor, chiefly in respect of the degree of the Ministry’s control over hospitals and doctors, and in the emphasis given to group partnerships of doctors in local health centres. Whereas Willink had wished to preserve the independence of voluntary hospitals, Bevan took over all local authority and voluntary hospitals, except those not necessary for the National Health Service (NHS). Bevan’s biggest problem was with the British Medical Association which, as late as February 1948, organised a poll of its members which resulted in a vote of 8:1 against the Act. Bevan was aware of the need to meet the medical profession on some points. In particular, he was willing to allow private beds in NHS hospitals so as to attract the best specialists into the service. He met the general practitioners’ fears for their independence by promising that there would be no wholetime salaried medical service. In the end the doctors and consultants were given a larger place in the administration of the NHS than Willink had envisaged.

(pp. 155-5). Thus, while the Tories did have a role in the creation of the NHS, the government as a whole only reluctantly accepted its necessity after it won a general acceptance amongst the electorate and parliament. Yes, Willink did play his part, but the ultimate creation of the NHS was under Nye Bevan.

There is much, much more I could write on this, but at the moment this ends the discussion.