Fabians highlight the Beveridge Legacy

This week the Fabian Society – one of the country’s most venerable think tanks – highlighted eight lessons from Beveridge for today.

In this seventieth anniversary of Beveridge’s landmark report, we will see more and more commentators assess his legacy.  We will try and flag up all of them here.


The growing cost of raising kids

One of the main aims of the National Conversation is identifying the new challenges faced by our society (beyond Beveridge’s 5 Giant Evils).

With more parents wanting – or needing, perhaps more accurately – to go out to work, the costs of child care is a growing issue.

Graeme Cooke of the Institute of Public Policy Research, frames the challenge in this short video*.

Thanks to Charlie Robinson for flagging up this clip.

On the up?

Today former Labour MP Alan Milburn publishes his report on social mobility.

In the years ahead, Milburn sees white collar jobs accounting for 83% of the jobs created in the UK economy, and calls for government and the professions to ensure opportunities are open to everyone.

Beveridge set his sights on tackling the Great Evil of Ignorance.  His education reforms seen to have promoted social mobility, enabling people to move from manual and semi-skilled backgrounds into the professional classes.  The years following the post-war education reforms led to – what Milburn calls the “golden age” of social mobility.

To restore social mobility to the levels of the 1950s and ’60s, do we need new legislation, as Milburn suggests today?  Or do we need to do something about our schools and universities?

Beveridge’s Five Great Evils were a kind of urgent “to do” list for post-war Britain.  Seventy years after the publication of the original Beveridge Report, do we need to add social mobility to our society’s “to do” list?

The poverty trap

The Beveridge reforms were meant to free people from poverty – but, as John Phelan points out, the complexity of the welfare system can mean people who want to work to escape poverty are trapped on benefits.

In terms of Beveridge’s Five Giant Evils, how we create a welfare system that rescues people from Want and Squalor without condemning them to dependence?

Westminster more revolting than ever

In The Guardian, Michael White reveals that this is the most revolting parliament in history.

Backbenchers are more rebellious than anyone can remember.  Even if they can be whipped into shape when the division bell rings, dissenters still give vent to their discontents on platforms like Twitter.

This is fun for MPs (if a headache for the whips).  But does it really help give people more of a voice in parliament?

Get out and make your case

In today’s Sunday Telegraph, Janet Daley takes the Conservative leadership to task for a failure to engage with its own party or the wider public.

Daley doesn’t pull any punches, warning against “policy-by-focus-group” and advising David Cameron and George Osborne to leave “the bunker” and start to test and temper their ideas in the crucible of public debate.

Key quote: “the greatest danger in refusing to engage with argument … is that you never get to test your position and perfect your case. This weakness – the inability to anticipate objections and pitfalls because you have not bothered to construct a rigorous defence – has cost the Tory leadership a great deal…”

Getting out and engaging with people always carries a risk.  But by not starting a real and meaningful conversation with the public, politicians risk being left behind.

Has National Insurance had its day?

Seventy years after the Beveridge Report, how we fund welfare remains a controversial issue.

Today the 2020 Tax Commission floated the idea of a 30% flat tax (starting on incomes of £10,000).  Backed by the Institute of Directors and the TaxPayers’ Alliance, the proposal would see an end to National Insurance.

Beveridge saw National Insurance as the key to funding his welfare plans.  You received your benefits in return for “paying your stamp” into a special fund.  (Even though things didn’t quite turn out that way: as Nye Bevan said*: “the great secret about the National Insurance fund is that there ain’t no fund.”)

Does the 2020 Commission’s proposal represent a step forward?

* hat tip to John Phelan, one of our co-founders, for unearthing this interesting quote.

Parties need to engage the grassroots to tackle cynicism

Labour needs to find new ways to connect with voters at the grassroots, according to the party’s general secretary Iain McNichol in an interview with The Guardian.

Key quote from McNichol:  “We need to get people engaged and break down the cynicism that you are all the same. It is one of the most dispiriting things I have come across on the doorstep. People just repeatedly say: what is the point of voting?”

Countering cynicism – and getting people engaged with politics is what the National Conversation is all about.  We believe a frank and open conversation – around topics that touch everyone in the UK – can help all the parties re-build voter trust.

70 years after Beveridge, what new challenges do we face?

In 1942, Beveridge believed post-war Britain would have to tackle five ‘Giant Evils’ of Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness.

When the National Conversation goes public later this year, we will ask if we face the same social problems today, or a set of new ones?

How interesting, then, that today Policy Exchange Director Neil O’Brien shows how the costs of childcare are becoming a big issue for families.  He writes: “in Britain a typical working family can expect to spend more than a quarter (27%) of their net household income on childcare, one of the highest rates in any developed country. I have friends who spend more on childcare for their one toddler than they do on rent. No wonder some mothers wonder if it’s worth going back to work.”

What do you think?