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.