Commission on Social justice: Beveridge's appeal for an attack on five giant evils: The Beveridge report turned its author into a hero - 'The People's William'. Nicholas Timmins reports

When the Beveridge report was published on 1 December 1942 with its clarion call for an attack on the 'five giant evils' of Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness, queues formed all night outside the Stationary Office's Kingsway headquarters - barely a hundred yards from where the Borrie Commission launched its 'new Beveridge' yesterday - to buy it.

Sales of the full Beveridge report topped 100,000 within a month, and reached 600,000 after a shortened summary was produced. (No official report outsold it until the Denning report into the Profumo scandal 20 years later.) It was translated into 22 languages, sold to the United States, circulated to the troops, and dropped over Nazi-occupied Europe. At the end of the war, a summary of it was found in Hitler's bunker, a commentary noting that it was 'no botch-up . . . superior to the current German social insurance in almost all points'.

The report overnight turned its author - an overbearing, vain, but brilliant one-time civil servant, who had helped Winston Churchill set up the first Labour exchanges and headed the London School of Economics - into a national hero, 'The People's William'.

Sir Gordon Borrie will no doubt be grateful that such a fate is unlikely to happen to him. But Beveridge's report was very different from yesterday's Borrie Commission. Despite its reputation for launching the modern welfare state, the Beveridge report was far more limited and detailed in scope.

The Borrie publication ranges from recommendations on wage subsidies to a ban on tobacco advertising, and the need for a Scottish assembly.

Beveridge was originally appointed to tidy up the then existing mess of public and private social insurance. He so bent his terms of reference that his report proved, in Paul Addison's phrase 'the prince's kiss', which brought to life the outline of pre-existing plans to create a national health service and secondary education for all, while providing the stimulus for the coalition government to accept responsibility for ensuring a 'high and stable' level of employment.

Beveridge's direct contribution was limited to a plan for social security.

To make it work, however, he wrote in three assumptions without which, he said, the scheme could not work - a National Health Service, free at the point of use to prevent medical bills causing poverty; family allowances paid at the same rate in and out of work because purely means-tested help would leave those with large families better off out of work; and a commitment to full employment to ensure that the wages were there to pay the contributions needed to fund the scheme.

His committee originally consisted of himself and a dozen civil servants from the departments most affected. When the Treasury realised the scale of what he was up to, Sir Kingsley Wood, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, asked Beveridge to withdraw his three crucial assumptions. When he refused, the departmental representatives were reduced to mere 'advisers or assessors', with Beveridge's signature the only one on the final report.

As a result, the report essentially containing none of the evident compromises and occasional open failure to agree that mark the work of the 16-strong Borrie Commission.

It also allowed Beveridge to use the Bunyan-esque prose that so inspired a nation emerging from the darkest hour of war, proposals that the The Daily Mirror dubbed his 'cradle to grave' plan.

Social security, Beveridge declared, was 'one part only of an attack upon five giant evils: upon the physical Want with which it is directly concerned, upon Disease which often causes Want and brings many other troubles in its train, upon Ignorance which no democracy can afford among its citizens, upon Squalor . . . and upon Idleness which destroys wealth and corrupts men . . .'

Married to that grand vision, however, was a programme for social security detailed down to the value of each benefit and costed on a scale not attempted by the Borrie Commission for any of its recommendations. It was this programme which was, in essence, although not without some crucial modifications, enacted by a Labour government in 1945.

Nicholas Timmins's history of the welfare state since Beveridge, entitled The Five Giants, is to be published by Harper Collins next year.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power