How Far Did the Post 1945 Welfare State Eliminate Beveridge’s ‘Five Giants’?

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  • Topic: William Beveridge, Clement Attlee, Labour Party
  • Pages : 6 (2374 words )
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  • Published : April 28, 2012
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How far did the post 1945 welfare state eliminate Beveridge’s ‘five giants?’ From 1937-40, Britain was governed by a Conservative government led by Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940). However, Chamberlain was forced to resign due to a public and parliamentary lack of confidence in May 1940. Winston Churchill succeeded him as Prime Minister and on May 13 1940 he unveiled the new war cabinet, a coalition government of those he regarded as the most energetic and talented people available to him, regardless of party . The coalition continued until the end of World War Two (1939-1945). After the war had ended the British electorate had a shift in attitude and in an effort to secure a better and brighter future the people voted for a Labour government in the 1945 elections in a spirit of optimism and hope for change . The post-war Labour government subsequently created a welfare state, which, although it had existed in the 1930’s, was still a welcome innovation. Asa Briggs, the late Professor of History at the University of Sussex, defined the welfare state as; ‘a state in which organised power is deliberately used in an effort to modify the play of market forces in at least three directions – first, by guaranteeing individuals and families a minimum income irrespective of the market value of their work or property; second, by narrowing the extent of insecurity by enabling individuals and families to meet certain social contingencies which lead otherwise to individual and family crises; and third, by ensuring that all citizens without distinction of status or class are offered the best standards available in relation to a certain agreed range of social services.’ The welfare state was a response to citizens’ needs and a desire for a radical break from the past and it became institutionalised as a primary concern of the government, post 1945. The government introduced and developed major social policies formed on the basis of the Beveridge Report (December 1942) which was created by the economist, Sir William Beveridge (1869-1963). The report – initially named the Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Social Insurance and Allied Services – recommended a social insurance scheme based on contributory principles. There was also plans to eliminate what he called the “five giant evils” in Britain; ignorance, want, disease, squalor and idleness . This essay will examine how the measures adopted by the Labour governments of 1945 to 1951 dealt with these five social problems and to what extent they eliminated them. The first of Beveridge’s ‘five giants’ is ‘want’; this refers to the poverty in Britain at the end of the war. Many families were cast into abject poverty before the end of the war due to high levels of unemployment and as a result of this, the economist John Maynard Keynes said employment should be a high priority of the government . In 1946, influenced by Beveridge’s ideas, the Labour government introduced the Social Insurance Act (later changed to the National Insurance Act). It meant that people would receive benefits during times of earnings interruption after having made contributions from their salaries before they became sick or unemployed. This was therefore an incentive for people to secure employment so that they could pay a weekly flat rate contribution which would allow them to receive insurance if they were out of work. Labour had a commitment to the principle of universalism in service provision and they wanted a future substantially free of the selectivism of the Conservatives. Their principle of universality was the only way to ensure that the best quality services could be made available to all who needed them. Keynes stated that this was a new approach to economic policy and that the more people that were employed, the more National Insurance contributions would be received providing more money to pay for other things. As the system was based on contribution it could not be presented as an unearned...
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