William Beveridge

From New World Encyclopedia

William Henry Beveridge, 1st Baron Beveridge (March 5, 1879 – March 16, 1963) was a British economist and social reformer. He is best known as the author of the report Social Insurance and Allied Services (1942), which became known as the "Beveridge Report." This document created the framework for the universal social security system, which served as the basis for the post-World War II British Labor Government's welfare state. Beveridge's work was thus foundational to the establishment of a society which would take care of the physical needs of all its citizens. At that time in the twentieth century, Britain served as a role model for the world, and was in a position to support the development of a harmonious, peaceful world. Beveridge's work contributed greatly to this. However, this type of welfare state, which ignored the internal aspects of human beings and focused only on physical needs, failed to represent the true ideal society. Without recognizing the spiritual nature of human beings, Beveridge's system is ultimately inadequate to bring about the ideal society that he envisioned.


William Henry Beveridge was born in Bengal, India, on March 5, 1879, the eldest son of a judge in the Indian Civil Service. He attended the Charterhouse School and Balliol College, Oxford, studying mathematics, classics, and law. He became a lawyer, but regarded a legal career as not challenging enough. His wife, Janet, was a journalist and writer.

Beveridge became interested in the social services and wrote about the subject for the Morning Post newspaper (1905–1908). He also worked in Toynbee Hall as a social worker (1903–1905), a protégé of Sidney and Beatrice Webb. It was Beatrice Webb who introduced young Beveridge to Winston Churchill, who invited him to work as an advisor on the Board of Trade.

In 1908 Beveridge joined the Board of Trade, and helped organize the implementation of the national system of labor exchanges. In 1909 he was appointed the Director of Labor Exchanges. His ideas influenced David Lloyd George and led to the passing of the 1911 National Insurance Act. During Herbert Asquith's Liberal government of 1908 to 1914, Beveridge was asked to advise Lloyd George on old age pensions and National Insurance. The government began to take action to combat poverty.

During World War I Beveridge was involved in mobilizing and controlling manpower. After the war, he was knighted and made permanent secretary to the Ministry of Food.

Beveridge was influenced by the Fabian Society socialists, and became the best economist among them. His early work on unemployment (1909) and his massive historical study of prices and wages (1939) clearly testified to his scholarship. The Fabians appointed him director of the London School of Economics, the LSE, in 1919, a post he retained until 1937. His continual jousts with Edwin Cannan and Lionel Robbins, who were trying to wrench the LSE away from its Fabian roots, are now legendary. Over the next few years he also served on several commissions and committees on social policy.

In the years before World War II Beveridge played an important role in providing shelter for scholars who sought refuge from Nazi persecution.

In 1937, Beveridge was appointed Master of University College, Oxford. Three years later, Ernest Bevin, Minister of Labor, asked him to look into existing schemes of social security, which had grown up haphazardly, and make recommendations for improvement. In 1941, the government ordered a report on how Britain should be rebuilt after World War II; Beveridge was an obvious choice to take charge. He produced his first report, Social Insurance and Allied Services, in 1942, which later became known as the "Beveridge Report."

A second report, Full Employment in a Free Society, appeared in 1944. Later that year, Beveridge, who had recently joined the Liberal Party, was elected to the House of Commons, briefly serving the constituency of Berwick-upon-Tweed.

The following year the new Labor Government began the process of implementing Beveridge's proposals that provided the basis for the modern welfare state. Clement Attlee and the Labor Party had defeated Winston Churchill's Conservative Party in the 1945 general election, and Attlee announced, as Prime Minister, that he would introduce the welfare state outlined in the 1942 Beveridge Report. This included the establishment of a National Health Service in 1948, with free medical treatment for all. A national system of benefits was also introduced to provide social security so that the population would be protected from the "cradle to the grave." The new system was partly built on the National Insurance scheme set up by Lloyd George in 1911.

In 1946 Beveridge was made Baron Beveridge of Tuggal in the County of Northumberland, and eventually became leader of the Liberals in the House of Lords.

He died on March 16, 1963 in Oxford, Oxfordshire, England.


Beveridge’s report to the British parliament on Social Insurance and Allied Services was published in 1942. It proposed that all people of working age should pay a weekly "national insurance" contribution. In return, benefits would be paid to people who were sick, unemployed, retired, or widowed. Beveridge argued that this system would provide a minimum standard of living "below which no one should be allowed to fall:"

The object of government in peace and in war is not the glory of rulers or of races, but the happiness of the common man (Social Insurance and Allied Services, pt. 7).

He argued that the government should find ways of fighting the five "Giant Evils"—Disease, Ignorance, Squalor, Idleness, and Want, or poor health, poor education, poor living conditions, unemployment, and poverty. This led to the setting up of the modern welfare state, the culmination of the Fabians' project, with the National Health Service (NHS). Medical treatment covering all requirements was provided for all citizens by the NHS, organized under the health departments. Post-medical rehabilitation treatment was also provided for all who needed it.

Beveridge argued that the system of social security should to be universal, covering all people, regardless of their age, type of employment, health, or wage. It needed to included maternity, widows, orphans, medical sickness, industrial injury, unemployment, old age, and funeral benefits. The money would come from a central fund to which people would make flat-rate contributions. Children’s allowances would come from taxation money. Beveridge maintained that no satisfactory scheme of social security could be devised without the following requirements:

  1. Children's allowances for children up to the age of 15 or if in the full-time education up to the age of 16;
  2. Comprehensive health and re-habilitation services for prevention and cure of disease and restoration of capacity for work, available to all members of the community;
  3. Maintenance of employment, that is to say avoidance of mass unemployment (Social Insurance and Allied Services, 1942).

One of the report’s most remarkable assets was the convincing manner of Beveridge’s argument which made it so widely acceptable. Beveridge appealed to conservatives and other doubters by arguing that the welfare institutions he proposed would increase the competitiveness of British industry in the post-war period, not only by shifting labor costs like healthcare and pensions out of corporate ledgers and onto the public account, but also by producing healthier, wealthier, and thus more motivated and productive workers who would also serve as a great source of demand for British goods.

Beveridge saw full employment (which he defined as unemployment of no more than 3 percent) as the pivot of the social welfare program he described in the 1942 "Beveridge Report," and Full Employment in a Free Society (1944) expressed how this goal might be attained. Alternative measures for achieving it included Keynesian-style fiscal regulation, direct control of manpower, and state control of the means of production. He advocated planned public spending, control of private investment, and other measures to assure full employment. The impetus behind Beveridge's thinking was social justice and the creation of an ideal new society after the war. He believed that the discovery of objective socio-economic laws could solve the problems of society.


William Beveridge's work, particularly the document known as the Beveridge Report (1942), was one of the most important in the history of social security. It suggested the establishment of a national social security system that would provide universal benefits "from the cradle to the grave." The system was universal, covering all people, of all ways of life. It was the first such system ever devised, and served as a blueprint for the welfare state, defining the socio-economic structure of post-war Great Britain.


  • Beveridge, William H. The Public Service in War & in Peace. Constable & Company, Ltd. 1920.
  • Beveridge, William H. British Food Control. Oxford University. 1928.
  • Beveridge, William H. The Past and Present of Unemployment Insurance. Oxford University. 1930.
  • Beveridge, William H. Blockade and the Civilian Population. The Clarendon. 1939.
  • Beveridge, William H. Prices and Wages in England from the Twelfth to the Nineteenth Century. Longmans, Green. 1939.
  • Beveridge, William H. Social Insurance and Allied Services. Agathon. 1969 (original published 1942). ISBN 0875860141
  • Beveridge, William H. Full Employment in a Free Society. G. Allen. 1944.
  • Beveridge, William H. The Price of Peace. Pilot. 1945.
  • Beveridge, William H. Voluntary Action: A Report on Methods of Social Advance. Macmillan Co. 1948.
  • Beveridge, William H. Power and Influence. Beechhurst. 1955.
  • Beveridge, William H. Causes and Cures of Unemployment. Greenwood. 1976. ISBN 0837188938
  • Beveridge, William H. Unemployment: A Problem of Industry. AMS Press Inc. 1979 (original published 1909). ISBN 0404007945

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Cutler, Tony. Keynes, Beveridge, and Beyond. Routledge & Kegan Paul Books Ltd. 1986. ISBN 0710209924
  • Harris, Jose. William Beveridge: A Biography. Oxford University. 1998. ISBN 0198206852

External Links

All links retrieved May 6, 2023.


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