December 2012 marks the seventieth anniversary of the Beveridge Report.
Produced during the Second World War, this document sought to tackle what it described as the “five giant evils” of “idleness, ignorance, disease, squalor and want.” Beveridge himself said that they were operating within a "revolutionary moment” in the history of the world and that it was a “time for revolutions, not for patching.”
The recommendations of the Report were truly far-reaching, and the Ministry of Information stated that it had been “welcomed with almost universal approval by people of all shades of opinion and by all sections of the community” and that it was seen as “the first real attempt to put into practice the talk about a new world.”
The Beveridge Report led to real societal change, including the creation of the National Health Service and the welfare state. Indeed, there was a whole raft of post-war legislation which covered areas such as national insurance, family allowances, pensions, housing and rent control.
Seven decades on, we should be celebrating how the work of Beveridge and his colleagues benefited millions and millions of families.
But I am fearful of how the policies of this present government are undermining the traditional fairness that has been at the core of British society for so long, much of which emanated from the reforms of the late 1940s.
We have had the Health and Social Care Bill, which has privatised great tracts of the NHS, ignoring unprecedented levels of opposition from nurses, doctors and ordinary people.
We have received report after report demonstrating that government policies are impacting most on the less-well-off and the vulnerable.
And only days ago, 59 charities and other organisations (including Oxfam, Barnardos, the Children's Society and the Child Poverty Action Group) joined together to condemn attacks on the welfare budget.
Describing the government’s approach as “punitive and unfair,” they argued it would hurt children and families, and “risk losing the very safety net” instigated by Beveridge.
Their joint letter also stated “the truth is that the vast majority of those who rely on benefits and tax credits are either in work, have worked, or will be in work in the near future … while the chancellor paints a picture of so-called ‘strivers’ and ‘skivers,’ our organisations see the reality on the ground: families scraping by in low-paid work, or being bounced from insecure jobs to benefits and back again."
I believe that the Coalition Government needs to listen to those groups campaigning to end all forms of poverty and social injustice, and to act accordingly, with the spirit of Beveridge foremost in their minds.