Clement Attlee, an esteemed war veteran, established first majority Labour’s government in Great Britain. He pursued a sturdy socialist programme and he was the father of the public organisations, which have added more strength to U.K’s economy. His overture to politics was to offer the people the talent and basic-structure to manage their own future, which, after the volatility and extreme anxiety during the war, was what the public required to recuperate a feeling of normality.
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Attlee worked for the establishment of the welfare state, which became so significant for those lives trashed by the war years. Attlee’s welfare state policy emphasises how he was in all probability the most poignant post-war Prime Minister since he had to deal with the reliance of the people on him and his government by offering a feeling of security. He fruitfully negotiated the political transition between the years of war, where no prominence was placed on policy but more on the issues of survival, and the post-war period where people anticipated the establishment of a reliable country and the government that was more apprehensive with the struggle of the general public.
His legacy in the kind of the National Health Service on the recommendation of Beveridge Report emphasises his significance as one of the most imperative post-war British leaders. This prominence placed on public ownership helped so many to endure the aftermath of the Second World War since they were extended the support of the government rather than their salary for private services. It is obvious that Attlee’s most outstanding impression remained on politics was the understanding that the lower classes were an integral part of the British electorate. The government intervention line that he adhered still lingers the key to socialist ideas and he was the first British Prime Minister to restore the power back to the people.
Other major initiations perused by Attlee as he changed the shape of Britain and British participation globally, such as setting up Britain’s position within NATO. This facilitated Britain to establish itself as a dominant international leader in the future and Britain assumed a strong part in the defence of the international facade. As the Britain was economically weak due to the debilitating effect of the war, Attlee negotiated to elevate the Britain to a platform of sizeable power despite of its dependence on American support. Another significant progress during the Attlee saga was the commencement of the collapsing of the British Empire. This could be viewed as a feeble surrender from Attlee but this policy virtually absolved Britain from what could have become an arduous clash with foreign countries who claimed their independence from Britain’s rule.. This demonstrates that Attlee was a strong protagonist of freedom and liberty, which has left Britain with the picture of a more tolerant and compassionate country. He did not allow the initiative of the all authoritative British Empire obstruct in the way of enforcing this policy, since he was shrewd enough to apprehend that Britain’s empire could lead to its downfall when the world started to sermonise freedom. The Attlee government transformed the face of Britain. As per Beveridge Report, Attlee enacted laws for the establishment of a new system of social security and a national health service which intended to offer protection for all. No one would deny that the Attlee government was amongst the most influential in modern British history. In the words of Kenneth Morgan, since the passage of the 1832 Reform Act, the Attlee government was “amongst the most efficient of any British government.
Historians have unanimously agreed upon the significance of the post-war Labour government in moulding modern Britain. Labour won a landslide election victory in 1945 and the labour government led by Clement Attlee crafted a series of far-reaching changes, including the introduction of the Welfare State as recommended by Beveridge Report.
Within one and half years after coming to power , Attlee’s Cabinet had performed more than any earlier twentieth-century British government to improve the standard of living of ordinary working people. Welfare reform introduced by Attlee government on the recommendations of Beveridge report like free medical treatment, family allowances, subsidised housing and educational opportunities on a scale not known before.
Beveridge Report’s Background
Churchill as the head of the Wartime Coalition had given an extensive deliberation to post-war reconstruction. This reconstruction measures had been poorly handled after 1918 and there was a general resolution not to permit it to happen a second time.
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In 1941, a committee was created to analyse “reconstruction issues”. This committee was headed by Sir William Beveridge who was a Liberal and he was asked to submit a report on to “embark on a survey of the subsisting national schemes of social insurance and allied services and to forward recommendations”.
William Beveridge, a well-known civil servant, was accorded the task of heading a government report on Social Insurance and Allied services in 1942. He went much beyond his remit and developed a report which very much replicated his own philosophy and offered a pro-active scheme for dealing with the main issues facing a modern society.
Beveridge was considered to be a gentleman of substantial ability and prudence and he executed his mission with vigour and vision and submitted a report namely “The Beveridge Report” to English Parliament in December 1942. The Report is esteemed as the most momentous social policy report of the century. Beveridge stressed the necessity to extinguish from life the following five major evils namely
His report famously known as Beveridge report (and not beverage report) mainly suggested the ways and means to get rid off the above evils by a government.
The Five Giants
All three political parties in England in 1945 preferred wide-ranging welfare provision but Labour party had the opportunity to introduce the modern Welfare State. The Beveridge Report of 1942 emphasised the need for the U.K government to assault the “five giants of Disease, Want, Squalor, Ignorance and Idleness”. Thus, the Welfare State conceived of the provision of all-inclusive social services “from the cradle to the cemetery”, through a scheme of health, education, social security and housing.
Beveridge emphasised on the necessity to redress five giant problems namely Disease, Want, Squalor, Ignorance and Idleness He submitted his Report which consisted more than 300 pages which discussed more about Want. The other four problems still had to be solved in the Beveridge report.
- To find a solution to issue of disease by the implementation of a new health service.
- Resolving Idleness by the State by focusing on full employment.
- To enlighten the Ignorance by modernising the educational system
- To enhance Squalor by introducing new house-building schemes and slum-clearance programme.
Main Proposals of Beveridge
In spirit, Beveridge recommended that all people in employment would defer a single weekly flat-rate contribution into the state insurance fund. Such flat-rate premium would cover all possible risks that might transpire on people throughout their lives. As a token of return on their contribution of health insurance premium, a new Ministry of Social Security would offer people with survival allowance in the form of medical, sickness, maternity, old age, widows, unemployment, industrial injury, orphans and funeral benefits.
Beveridge submitted a detailed scheme of all-inclusive social insurance. It was based on the piecemeal provisions of pensions, sickness and unemployment benefit, which had come into force since 1908. The Plan envisaged the total desertion of the Poor Law attitude which had caused all payments to the sick, old and unemployed to be considered as charitable offerings, while these had to be kept as low as possible so as to dissuade extravagance and idleness.
Beveridge maintained that the scheme was one of insurance-thereby offering benefits of right in return for contributions. He also recommended that there should be non-contributory children’s allowances for each child after the first which was to be paid for out of taxation and not out of insurance contributions In addition, there was to be, a National Health Service to offer every citizen whatever medical treatment that was required. Moreover, Beveridge report recommended that there should be an end to mass unemployment that had haunted Britain in the 1930’s.
The main points of the Beveridge report were summed up as follows:
- It is comprehensive in nature as it would meet all the social issues of the people from the provenience to cemetery.
- It is universal as it would be open to all by right irrespective of their means.
- It is an insurance-based scheme where people would make weekly payments to sponsor their future benefits.
- It is mandatory for those individuals in employment.
- It is integrated in nature as it would combine together all the individual plans to be covered by one single payment.
- It is based on flat rate system as everyone would pay the same premiums despite of their income.
- It would offer the minimum benefits necessary for food, clothing, subsistence and shelter.
- It is non means tested as the benefits would no longer be blocked or reduced depending on an individual’s financial means.
Beveridge was attempting to establish a stimulus plan to deal with the apparent causes of poverty rather than retorting to the results as they were viewed. He recognised the five critical problems and endeavoured to deal with them before they occurred.
Retort to the Report
The Beveridge Report echoed the mood of Britain in the latter years of the war. Beveridge report outlined what many perceived for which they were struggling for. The report sold like hot cakes and it became a best-seller. However, the then Prime Minister Winston Churchill dumped the Beveridge Report in the dust bin. This had helped the Labour victory in the 1945 election, despite of the fact that Churchill had a heroic leadership image due to the war effort. On commenting about Churchill defeat in 1945 election, his wife told that it was a blessing in disguise. On hearing his wife’s comment, Churchill commented in lighter vein that blessing was extraordinary in disguise.
The response to the “Report” among the public at large was overwhelmed. People infused much hope the report viewing the report would be the basis for their life after the war. Majority of Labour ministers were whole heartedly supported Beveridge recommendations but Churchill adopted a rather uninterested attitude. Churchill commented that the report did have merit but the public should be more cautious as the priority task was that the enemy had yet to be crushed first. Marwick, a renowned historian viewed Churchill’s indifference to Beveridge Report as a trumping factor in Churchill’s election defeat in 1945. Doctors also opposed the Beveridge Report as they were not keen to be any part of a national scheme for a health service, as they had a fear that not only their autonomy would be endangered but also their salary would be reduced.
Beveridge desired to see the whole system turned to be much more efficient and simple. He strongly believed that insurance should safeguard the people against all the grave hardships of life and advocated that such insurance scheme should extend protection to the whole population of the country. The insurance premium payments he visualised were to be viewed as the rightful due of all, not money to be paid in differing amounts according to a means test. However, he did not believe that payments should be liberal.
As a Liberal, he was an advocate in the principle of people contributing to the savings administered by the state, and if they desired, they make more liberal contribution for themselves and in such cases, he believed that they should avail the services of private insurance schemes. Further, Beveridge did not restrict himself simply to looking at insurance. He advocated that ’the establishment of social insurance should be viewed as one part only of an all-inclusive policy of social progress. Social insurance may offer income security; it is an assault on want. However, Want is only the first element of five giants. The others are Ignorance, Disease, Idleness and Squalor.’ To combat these giants, Beveridge argued that it would be essential to have an appropriate National Health Service, a strategy of full employment and allowances paid to families with children. He commented that his ideas ‘the plan envisaged here is in some means a revolution but in more significant ways it is a natural growth from the past. It is a Revolution of British origin.’
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Beveridge report was published in December 1942 and this was considered to be a fitting time because the British Eighth Army had just succeeded in the battle of Alemein and the Russian Army had just succeeded the Battle of Stalingrad and the general sentiment in the country was now that the allies would be triumphant and it was the right time to look forward to the incentives of peace time. Official government corroborated this idea and hinted that post war could be better than pre war. A statement issued by the Ministry of Health referred to ‘mounting reflection for the future’ and that there could ‘be no revisit to the pre war situation.’ Beveridge Report was overwhelmingly appreciated by the British public.. It became a best seller, selling 635,000 copies in total, more than any other government report, though it was written in difficult and dry language. British subjects envisaged its recommendations to be implemented immediately, or at least as soon as at the end of the war.
An Evaluation of the Attlee Government
According to Kevin Jeffrey’s, the Labour Government fulfilled the promises they had given in their election manifesto, between 1945 and 1951 and the most significant being the establishment of the “Welfare nation”. The Labour government implemented the proposals of the Beveridge Report to initiate the various limited inter-war “welfare” measures and make them universal between 1945 and 1948. The “Welfare nation” which it established offered benefits “from the provenience to the tomb” for all its citizens.
Labour government attempted to fulfil its electoral manifesto promises despite serious issues from the beginning of its government. Due to Second World War, Britain was almost bankrupt and in no position to go ahead with implementation social welfare programme. It has been contended by critics that initial efforts of labour government should have been to build up and re-equip industry before spending money on welfare measures. Alternatively, the Labour government emphasised on the establishment of a fair society, where assistance was available to all citizens irrespective of their ages.
Some historians have pointed out that while majority of nations in Western Europe had augmented their social spending only after 1945 while some other nations focused social spending on their work force, with the sole aim of augmenting industrial efficiency. In Great Britain, social spending was more liberal towards the sick, the old and the poor, which had no direct impact on the economy. Thus, Labour could be witnessed to have shelved the Liberal idea of social reform to boost the nation’s international competitiveness and also national efficiency
When Labour government was ousted out of office in 1951, it had many welfare programs as suggested by Beveridge Report. For the first time in U.K , the young people received free secondary education which had became a right and for the old, elderly persons , pensions was paid which was approximately equivalent to the level of a living income and on the whole , over a million houses were constructed in the six years immediately after the war.
For the first time, by establishing the National Health Service, free treatment to all at hospital and general practitioner services were introduced. However, it would be not prudent to censure Labour government for what it failed to do. Some critics lamented that the government did a lot for people leading towards ‘the nanny nation’, whereas others assert that the Beveridge report was not adhered closely enough thereby loosing a great opportunity for a fairer, better Britain.
Labour government wished to establish a society were those who had suffered so much in the war would never have to afraid of poverty again and get rid of it once and for all. Labour government foremost priority after coming back to power was to make sure the enactment of 1946 National Insurance Act, which was piloted through the Commons by Welshman James Griffiths. Labour extended the erstwhile Liberal 1911 National Insurance Act to extend cover for all adults. The new initiative was based on the principle of universality, in lieu of pre-war confinement, and also introduced for the first time an all inclusive range of benefits to offer insurance against unemployment sickness, and old age. Griffiths forwarded the reform as the “start of the commencement of a National Minimum Standard”.
In 1946, James Griffiths National Insurance Act was enacted. The Act established a compulsory contributory scheme for each employee in return for the weekly contribution from employees as suggested in Beveridge report. Welfare measures like old age pensions for women 60 and men 65, sickness and unemployment benefit, widows and orphans pensions and maternity and death grants. Widows’ gains and maternity gains were also introduced.
Labour government also resolved household poverty by enacting the Family Allowance Act. The family allowance Act was introduced in 1945 which paid five shillings a week to all families for each child born after the first, up to the age of sixteen. Mothers can withdraw the Money directly from the post office and this was to prevent fathers dissipating the money away.
However, these critics failed to understand one important point. The Beveridge report offered a ray of hope to a war exhausted people who expected a novel Britain that would be more reasonable and worth fighting for, and the Labour reforms did much to offer this. After the First World War, there was no return to the ‘normality’ where the forfeiture of the ordinary man was disregarded and circumstances remained as terrible as before the war. Due to efforts of Labour party, the living standards of the poor were elevated and the people looked forward to a time of increasing prosperity and opportunity. The Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan briefed the British people in the 1950’s that they ‘had never had it so beneficial’. Nobody should forget that the affluence and feel-good factor of the 50’s had its fundamentals in the reforms and improvements put into force by Labour. The Labour government had accomplished a makeover of British society in a way that enhanced the lives of millions of British citizens both young and old by 1951. The serious illness, financial uncertainties and unemployment were barred by the welfare state. For the first time a start was initiated in providing decent housing and education for everyone.
The cover under the National Assistance Act 1948 was extended by the Labour government for those who were not covered by the National Insurance Act. This offered provision for those who were unable to pay contributions. For instance, the homeless, disabled people, unmarried mothers were benefited under the National Assistance Act 1948. It also aimed to assist those such as the old aged who required additional benefits to make a subsistence living. However, the National Assistance Act was footed on ‘means tested and many aged people were too humiliated to apply for it. Therefore, it could be said that the disgrace attached to means testing resulted in some disadvantages not targeting those who needed it and not annihilating poverty to the full extent. Also, the compensation paid to aged was often insufficient.
In general, through the National Assistance Act 1948 and National Insurance Act, 1946 inadequate amount was paid as compensation but was successful as it went further than any earlier legislation in attacking the issues.
The Beverage report insisted upon the British government to ensure that there were adequate jobs for all those that sought employment. The government solved the unemployment by nationalising vital industries, which offered the government to increase its revenues to spend for welfare measures. Profits would be employed by the Labour government and in this style, Labour government thought that they could control and administer the economy more efficiently and could maintain full employment.
Labour government also inflicted prohibitions on imports. Hence, manufacturing activities increased and it boosted the British economy. Subsidies were paid to unprofitable industries to keep the people in employment.
Thus, change in the category of economics from profit based to Keynesian economy by offering full employment that helped at the time but raised the problems for later. Nationalising the industries was not only expensive and but at times resulted in bad management. The full employment policy resulted in inflation and balance of payment issues. However the effort to fight poverty due to unemployment could be regarded as a short-run success.
Labour fruitfully attained this with unemployment being about just 2.5% by 1946. This was impressive if one consider the post war economic depression and paucity of materials and goods. However, after the end of the Second World War, veterans have to be offered job and this pushed many women out of jobs. Further, working atmosphere and wages were remained unimproved.
The first post-war Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer Dalton asserted that full employment was “the supreme revolution initiated by the Labour Government.” Another achievement was tackling idleness was the fact that they made it possible under the grave economic problems that haunted post-war Britain. Therefore, it is obvious that Labour government 1945-51 faced effectively with issue of idleness under complicated economic scenarios.
In 1945, Labour won a surprising election victory by trouncing the great Conservative wartime leader Winston Churchill. The British voters felt that the Labour party was the apt party to bring radical social reforms and to construct an enhanced post-war Britain free from impoverishment. As the details of social reform needed in Britain were elaborated in the Beveridge report of 1942 which emphasised that five ‘gigantic perils’ were the root cause of much misery and poverty. These five giants were Disease (bad health), Want (poverty), Idleness (unemployment), Squalor (housing) and Ignorance (lack of education). When the Labour government was in power from 1945 to 1951, the Labour party expedited on a determined course of social reform to tackles these ‘five gigantic perils’. Whether Labour government was really successful in their social reforms 1945-51 in tackling the ‘five gigantic perils was evidenced by continuance of the same by successive British governments as on date.
Many British Prime Ministers have left a long-lasting impact on Britain and the importance of these events can only be ascertained on an individual level relating to one’s own penchant. If the importance of a British Prime Minister is footed upon the impact that has endured the test of time, then Clement Attlee must be viewed as the most influential and famous. His sense of balance between the international stage and domestic front offered the Britain stableness much necessitated after the war. It is mainly the duty of rejuvenating Britain after the conflict and his ability in doing so, that offers a superior significance to his term in office as compared with other leaders. His welfare policies based on the Beveridge Report that integrated the people with public development had set a model for those Prime Ministers who succeeded him. Britain had to be reconstructed after Second World War and Attlee’s assuming as Prime Minister made him to being in power just as British required directing out of the bedlam of the war years. By directing Britain away from these problems he should be regarded as the most noteworthy leader due to directing future British Prime Ministers in the apt direction and imposing anticipation from the people on these future leaders.
Labour government was triumphant in raising the standards of living of the poor through the various acts such as the Insurance against injury Act, National Insurance Act, and Family allowance. These Acts barred the financial precariousness of unemployment and grave illness. Disease was also attacked successfully as the NHS offered free medical care which is still available up to this day. Idleness was also fruitfully handled with as the preponderance of the population was in employment. However, there were some mistakes as regards in dealing with squalor as not as many houses were constructed as had been guaranteed pushing the people being homeless. Also, ignorance was never attacked with efficiently as what was established was a two tier education scheme where those who passed their 11 plus flourished and where as those who failed were entrapped in a world of low hopes and substandard education.
However, in general it has to be acclaimed that the Labour Reforms 1945-51 were productive as they were executed in an occasion of economic uncertainty and offered many a better standard of living than they had ever enjoyed before.
Thus, the Labour government did what they assured and established jobs for almost all. This was an accomplishment with the post war economy. With this achievement it can be expressed that Labour government made successful social reforms on the basis of recommendations by Beveridge.
Hence, the statement “Without the beverage report there could have been no Attlee government” is true.
- Adelman, Paul. “The British General Election 1945: Paul Adelman Explains a Major Turning Point in Modern British History.” History Review (2001): 30+.
- Beveridge. Power and Influence. New York: Beechhurst Press, 1955.
- Bruce, Maurice. The Coming of the Welfare State. London: B.T. Batsford, 1961.
- Harris, Jose. William Beveridge: A Biography. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997.
- Parrott, Alec L. “The Great Welfare State Myth.” Contemporary Review 1995: 202+.
- Trevor Burridge. Clement Attlee: A Political Biography. Cape, 1985.
- Kenneth Harris. Attlee.Weidenfeld and Nicolson,1995.