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?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea