The State of Welfare

As the 70th anniversary of Beveridge approaches, BBC Radio 4 returns to the welfare topic this week.  A new series The State of Welfare – beginning on Tuesday 27 November at 10.00am and then available on the BBC iPlayer – promises to look at the welfare system from both sides, from the point of view of both recipients and contributors.  Worth a listen.

A free for all?

Former Apprentice contestant Katie Hopkins believes the welfare state subsidises the fat and feckless.  Emily Thornberry MP (Labour Islington South and Finsbury) and Philip Hammond (Conservative MP Runnymede and Weybridge, Secretary of State for Defence) disagree.

Katie Hopkins’s style could be described as abrasive… but has she got a point?

Postcard from Brum

Today the party conference season came to an end as David Cameron delivered his address to the Tory faithful in Birmingham.

Yet again, Beveridge was on the agenda with the Prime Minister promising welfare reforms “just as profound as those of Beveridge 60 years ago.” (actually, 70 years)

David Cameron went on to update Beveridge’s ‘Giant Evils’ for 2012.  Instead of  Squalor, Ignorance, Want, Idleness and Disease, Cameron offered Unfairness, Injustice and Bureaucracy as the key challenges for our society.

We’re delighted to see all the parties picking up on the National Conversation agenda.  Next week, we’ll find out what people beyond the Westminster Bubble have to say about the future of welfare.

Why Beveridge? And why now?

Why is the Beveridge Report so central to the 2012 National Conversation?

The answer is simple: the publication of the Beveridge Report in 1942 was the last time Britain saw a genuine ‘national conversation’.  One that brought millions of people together to discuss the country’s post-war future.

The 2012 National Conversation is inspired by the wave of grassroots debate the followed the publication of the Beveridge Report.  We are very proud our campaign will help mark the report’s 70th anniversary, and the national conversation that followed it.

But we are also inspired by the content of the Beveridge Report.  Sir William Beveridge asked people what kind of country they wanted to live in.  He didn’t shy away from big questions: about work, poverty or fairness.  And he wasn’t looking for consensus: he recognised that different people will always have different answers to these questions.  What Beveridge was looking for was a common ground: something stable on which the country could begin to build a new future.

In 1942, people responded to Beveridge’s call in their millions.  500,000 copies of the original report were published and sold out in months.  People then gathered together – in factory canteens, church halls and pubs – to have grown up conversations about the kind of country they wanted to live in.

Seventy years later, we believe we need to have more of these kinds of conversations: about our society and about the Beveridge legacy.  And we believe the 2012 National Conversation can start the ball rolling, using a mix of new media and traditional formats like town hall debates.

We hope you will want to be part of that conversation.

PS: the Beveridge Report: 70 Years On

We’ve been running this blog since April, to reach out to potential supporters and record interesting snippets of news.  One of the most remarkable things we’ve seen is how all the major political parties have begun to embrace the Beveridge Legacy.  See here for how the Conservatives, Labour (via the Fabian Society) and the Liberal Democrats have made Beveridge part of their platforms in recent months.

Lib Dems embrace Beveridge

Following the Conservatives and Labour, this weekend the Lib Dems paid homage to the Beveridge Legacy with Nick Clegg delivering the inaugural William Beveridge Memorial Lecture at the Social Liberal Forum conference.

All the main parties now look to Beveridge to find new ways forward for welfare.  Will this help them re-connect with the public beyond Westminster?

Is child poverty about more than money?

In May the Centre for Social Justice published Rethinking Child Poverty, arguing that current measures for child poverty “[fail] to acknowledge that poverty is about much more than a lack of income… To construct a measure of poverty that is both accurate and useful, it is vital that the main drivers of poverty – family breakdown, educational failure, economic dependency and worklessness, addiction and serious personal debt – are made the priority for measurement.”

This weekend, Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu gave his reply.  The Archbishop writes that “instead of redefining Child Poverty, we urgently need to do something about it.”  He believes income inequality is the root of child poverty and recommends we “look at how Beveridge tackled the giants of inequality and use that as a blueprint for a new social covenant.”

You can’t begin to tackle a problem until you define and measure it.  If Beveridge was writing his report today, how would he have defined child poverty?

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?