Letter: A choice between Beveridge and Utopia

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The Independent Online
Sir: The theme of your commemoration of the anniversary of the publication of the Beveridge Report (1 December) - the articles by Ben Pimlott and Enoch Powell; the letter by Fran Bennett, director of the Child Poverty Action Group - was that it is time for a new 'Beveridge'. But is it?

It is fashionable to distance ourselves from Beveridge because of its failings and it is comforting to think of Beveridge, as Enoch Powell does, as 'a glimpse into an age of innocence': irreproachable, inexperienced, nave, but implicitly mistaken. Surely we ought to think of Beveridge as belonging to our age - the nuclear age. It excited the world in the same week as Enrico Fermi's controlled nuclear chain reaction. As Beveridge is an idea of the era we associate ourselves with, we must accept that we are a part of its failings.

Ben Pimlott's appeal for a 'new Beveridge' is comforting: we can be saved from ourselves by 'one monomaniac's visionary scheme'. Surely such an appeal does belong to the age of innocence - the age of the great and the good. Our nuclear age - profane, sceptical, vacillating, irreverent - cannot countenance such people.

But if it is time for a new Utopia, there won't be a shortage of them on offer. Utopian dreams will flow from pressure groups, political parties, academics, research groups, enlightened individuals and brilliant minds. They will offer us dreams, hopes, big new schemes, big new ideas - the bigger the better. But, sooner or later these dreams will be subject to different politicians with different views; with short-term concerns and personal prejudices. So these dreams will ultimately be undermined, changed, adapted, overloaded; so much so that they too will fail.

If we start with Beveridge, rather than with a new idea, perhaps we can, if we want to, make the current scheme work. But will we? I doubt it. It is harder to solve our existing problems than it is to dream of a place we've never been.

Yours faithfully,

JOHN PROSSER

London, E17

2 December

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