Next week we launch our report on the 2012 National Conversation.
Starting the Conversation tells the story of the 2012 Beveridge pilot, and gives advice on how to organise better public conversations.
We will launch the report on 9 April, with copies available for download from the National Conversation web site. We will also post details here next week. Until then… we’ve been going through our photo album from the York events.
The National Conversation is not about finding consensus – but rather common ground where people can come together to have grown-up conversations that generate more light than heat.
When we looked at the welfare issue in autumn 2012 – and once we got past partisan rhetoric – we found many people worried that the idea of contribution had slipped out of the welfare debate.
So it’s interesting to see two major papers – The Times and The Independent – publish leaders this week on the question of contribution, and why it’s the key to creating a welfare system that is both fair and affordable. From today’s Times (£):
Sir William Beveridge’s original idea of welfare in Britain was that help was afforded in return for a contribution through national insurance. There was a direct link between paying in during good times and drawing on the pool of collective resources in bad times… The link between contribution and welfare has declined to the point of invisibility and it is understandable that there should be public trepidation when eligibility is no longer in any way earned.
It’s good to see contribution recognised as the critical issue in the welfare discussion. But it will be interesting to see where the discussion goes next. As we found during the National Conversation pilots in York, it’s one thing to agree that contribution is a key principle. Another to determine how that can be made to work in practice.
The first stage of the National Conversation told us that people want to see the debate on welfare lifted out of the tired left-versus-right argument.
William Beveridge, architect of the Britain’s welfare state and the inspiration for the National Conversation on welfare, could perhaps best be described as a man apart. A life-long old-fashioned Liberal, Beveridge took an independent view on welfare.
More on Beveridge and his political and social roots in Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s article from The Guardian.
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.
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?
As we approach the seventieth anniversary of the publication of the Beveridge Report, we’ve been asking commentators for their thoughts about Beveridge and his legacy.
Today’s 3 Questions on Beveridge come from Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail. Thanks to Quentin for his thoughtful contribution. We are always happy to receive your ideas. We want to have as broad and informed a conversation as possible.
1) What does the Beveridge Report mean to you?
I associate it with the creation of the original welfare state – something that was based on biting need and, to use the man’s word, squalor. Beveridge is an historical figure and someone I think of with high regard, despite the fact that I consider the modern welfare system to be a disaster. His good intentions have been warped by later welfarians who have devalued the concept by “crying wolf” and over-rewarding the indolent.
2) Are all of Beveridge’s Five Great Evils still relevant today? Do we face any new ones?
Physical squalor is less evident today. Instead we have a moral or attitudinal squalor. A modern Beveridge might worry about how unkind we are, how angry – the levels of public rage are frightening. Also Beveridge today might worry about stress (related to anger), about family connections (divorce is almost as much of a social ill as non-divorce was), gluttony, anti-spiritualism. These are shortcomings of the soul rather than the more physical pangs Beveridge addressed. I wonder if he might also have worried about over-population.
3) Have we slain the Five Great Evils, or any one of them?
Ignorance has in some ways increased. Squalor, as I have just said in answer 2, is now not so much physical as in attitudes. Disease is, thank goodness, far less bad – though it will never be eradicated. Idleness is, I suspect, far, far worse today. You can blame the telly. You can blame the bloated welfare state. The evil which has abated most is want. Are people in modern Britain really still acutely in want? I guess some are but the scale is nothing to what it was.
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.
Does our welfare system undermine the value of hard work? Frank Field MP argues ‘yes’ in this month’s Prospect magazine. (‘Rebuilding Beveridge’. This article is also available online)
As the seventieth anniversary of the Beveridge Report approaches, Field believes its time for a frank and honest debate about the future of welfare in Britain. Counselling his own party he writes: “Now is the time for Labour to set out the principles that would underpin a new approach.”
Field goes on to outline what he believes to be Beveridge’s “first principles”:
Beveridge saw his welfare proposals as a means of moulding an active, independent citizenry that practiced the virtues of hard work honesty and prudence. His fundamental principle was that receipt of welfare was to be dependent on what a person had paid into the scheme.
Should the benefits we receive from the state be linked to what we pay in? Is the alternative a ‘something for nothing’ society? Can a system based on contribution be truly compassionate? We believe these questions will be central to the 2012 National Conversation.
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.
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?