“To what extent was the Beveridge Report implemented by the Labour governments from 1945-51?”
When the Beveridge report of 1942 was produced it identified “five giants” that were plaguing Britain, these included; want, squalor, ignorance, disease and idleness. One of the big tasks for Clement Attlee’s labour government of 1945 was to address these giants and repair the damage done by war. Although progress was made through the creation of NHS and the establishment of a cradle to grave welfare state it was still far from perfect. With complaints over the extensiveness of the national insurance act and divisions in education, implementing the Beveridge report was not all plain sailing for Labour.
One of the key aspects of society that needed addressing was the state of secondary education. This was addressed with the implementation of the 1944 Butler Act which looked to try and set up high quality nationwide provision of education. Prior to the act many working class children left school with only a very basic primary education as the pressure to choose a job over education was high due to the fact quality secondary school often required the payment of fees. Which led to secondary schooling only being open to those who could afford to pay for fees. The Butler Act looked to set up three levels of secondary education, technical schools, grammar schools and secondary modern schools with the aim being that it would provide everyone, regardless of class the access to quality education in an effort to tackle ignorance. However this didn’t prove to be the case, education still very much remained a segregated system due to the presence of the 11+ test which decided whether children went to a grammar school or technical school, more often than not only the rich well educated kids passed the test so only the rich, upper class kids went to grammar school where they received access to the best education which le to them then going to university. Meanwhile those who failed went to technical colleges where they learnt more practical skills such as woodwork. This system effectively meant that the working-class youth of Britain were effectively destined to be stuck in the same low paying working class jobs that there parents had before them. Secondary Modern schools were limited with only about 30 being set up by 1938 so as a result education remained a very segregated part of society with poor children receiving lower quality teaching. It can be viewed then that efforts to try and tackle ignorance by changes to the education system were largely ineffective. Poor children still didn’t have access to the same quality of education that middle class and upper-class children had and were still not being presented with equal opportunities which meant the problem working class children faced of an education system that couldn’t provide them with good enough opportunities to pursue better jobs was still prevalent as it had been prior to the war meaning the issue of ignorance was still prevalent in society so this aspect of the Beveridge report was not well implemented.
The introduction of National insurance was labours answer to combatting want was to bring in a national insurance act not to dissimilar to the one proposed by the liberal government of 1904. The act was a compulsory insurance that looked to cover everyone even if they had already invested in their own private insurance schemes which was a glaring problem for many, they had no choice in their commitment to national insurance and some found themselves paying a large proportion of their wages into insurance schemes which as a result left them poorer and with less disposable income. Another problem with this scheme was that before people could benefit from things such as sick pay or unemployment benefits they had to first pay a number of payments before coming eligible. This was problematic for those who were already too poor to afford to pay into this scheme as it didn’t cover them if they were unemployed, this was a big criticism of the act by many labour radicals who felt that this form of welfare system supposedly out to fix the issue of want was no more than an insurance based scheme like the one proposed by the liberal government and didn’t go far enough to redistribute wealth properly. The National Insurance act of 1946 was also attacked on the basis it was a wasteful system, everyone was covered regardless if they needed it or not, Tory critics felt that a more selective welfare state would be in a better position for tackling the issue of poverty as it would mean there’d be more resources available to give much more specific help to the poorest members of society. The act was a valiant attempt by labour to put in place a welfare state, and in that sense, it must be viewed as a success, Labour managed to successfully provide a nationwide system that covered all workers not just those who were working in certain trades, as had been the way in the past. It was a very useful part of society for those who had fallen on hard times and although not perfect it was an immense achievement that made a huge difference to the lives of all but the countries wealthiest so must be viewed as a positive step taken by labour to try and tackle Beveridge’s giant of want.
The formation of the NHS in 1948 was one of the greatest steps taken to combat Disease by Labour and remains to this day a huge success through the NHS infant mortality rates dropped by 50% and there was a decrease in the amount of deaths from previously fatal diseases like TB, prior to the formation of the NHS healthcare was often privatised with working men and women receiving very little coverage. The government wanted to make every healthcare service free but this proved to be too expensive a task, the budget for the NHS had already shot up to £358 million much greater than the £140 million originally proposed. As a result it was necessary for prescription charges to come into place. However apart from this the service remained on the large part free for everyone to use and made a massive impact on the life of everyday citizens, Labour did an excellent job in tackling the issue of disease that had previously been a common place in society, it was a resounding success, to create such a huge national organisation that was so comprehensive had never been seen in the UK before and was a huge achievement for Attlee’s government and was a real success in addressing the problem of disease the Beveridge report put forward.
The issue of combatting squalor proved to be a cantankerous issue for the Labour government. Britain was suffering from an extreme shortage of adequate housing due to the fact much of mainland Britain had been hit by the Blitz which had worsened the already slum like conditions that were commonplace in many British cities. The population was also increasing post war which combined with a general desire by young couples to break tradition and not live as an extended family with their parents it meant the demand for housing went up. Labours response to this was the creation of the new council houses, they were designed to provide cheap but more importantly good quality housing for working class people. By 1948 227,000 houses meeting this criteria had been built by the government. They also built 14 new towns under the New Towns act of 1946 which looked to again provide better living conditions for British people, however this was not enough to meet demand and the British government were suffering from a lack of resources, this resulted in many being forced to use disused army bases as lodgings post war with the wait for council houses being long, by 1951 there was still a huge shortage of adequate housing for citizens. This led to a general feeling of dissatisfaction amongst the electorate who felt the government weren’t doing enough to provide them with housing after the war. Although there were attempts made to try and combat the issues of squalor the housing policy cant be viewed as highly effective as it left many citizens still in need of housings and was a half hearted attempt to tackle squalor, compared to the success of acts such as the NHS the efforts made to combat Squalor pale in comparison, effective enough systems were not put in place by Labour.
The domestic reforms carried out by the Labour government 1945 must be viewed as effectively dealing with the issues brought up by the Beveridge report, Labour managed to set up several nationwide, comprehensive schemes such as the NHS that benefitted all members of society and created the first full welfare state that looked after people from cradle to grave, by setting up such comprehensive cover they addressed many of the issues brought up by Beveridge and the policies of Labour proved highly effective with poverty rates dropping from 36% to 4.5% and unemployment rates falling to 2.5% proof that Labour had gone some way in addressing the issues society faced.