The Department of Social Security has organised an exhibition to show how other countries have been able to benefit from Beveridge's vision. And the Secretary of State, Peter Lilley, has claimed that the United Kingdom 'provides one of the most comprehensive and secure safety nets in the (European) Community'. This may be so, although the replacement of single payments for one- off needs by the social fund and the abolition of benefit for 16- and 17-year-olds have made large holes in our safety net provision in the last few years.
But Beveridge's plan was based primarily on a non-means-tested network of benefits, with means- tested help very much a last resort. With one-third of the social security budget now being spent on means-tested benefits, compared with only 10 per cent in 1949, it is this emphasis that this and previous governments have so comprehensively reversed - with all the problems of low take-up, the poverty trap and social stigma that it brings.
Whatever his blind spots, Beveridge was always careful to stress the centrality of full employment to his plans for a fairer future. A social security system, however well structured, can not compensate adequately for problems whose origins lie elsewhere.
Recent figures on family poverty demonstrate that employment opportunities for women with children, as well as for many others now excluded from the labour market, are a precondition for the abolition of 'want'. And that means expanding affordable childcare provision, too.
The time is ripe for a reconsideration of Beveridge's legacy that retains his vision of solidarity and real social 'security' but applies it to today's changing patterns of employment and family life.
Child Poverty Action Group
30 NovemberReuse content