Editorial: July 2022
Beveridge at 80
2022 marks the 80th anniversary of the publication of the Beveridge Report and so the beginning—at least rhetorically—of what we call the welfare state. Perhaps we use the phrase too easily now in that much has changed in society, the state and welfare in the intervening years. In this special issue dedicated to celebrating the anniversary, we seek both to place the Report in its context and discuss how some of its insights might be reimagined for today.
Authored by William Beveridge (1879-1963) and published in December 1942, the official title of the Report was Social Insurance and Allied Services. The Report contained proposals for, among other things, a national insurance scheme and a national health service. Noting its double task — ‘proceeding from this first comprehensive survey of social insurance to the next task — of making recommendations’, the Report also demonstrates a sense of occasion and ambition: ‘A revolutionary moment in the world’s history is a time for revolutions, not for patching’. Although Beveridge was not himself religious, the Report’s call to attack the five ‘giants’ of Idleness, Ignorance, Disease, Squalor and Want has a religious tone. The focus of the Report is the defeat of Want.
The issue begins with Stephen Spencer’s article on the relationship between William Temple and William Beveridge. Noting the importance of Temple’s Christianity and Social Order and Beveridge’s Social Insurance and Allied Services both being published in 1942, Spencer considers their influence on each other and the shared connections in their lives and work.
Elaine Graham then offers a reframing of Beveridge’s ‘five giants’ of Disease, Idleness, Ignorance, Squalor and Want that he saw as needing combatting in post-war society. Through an ‘asset-based’ lens that focuses on social goods rather than deficits, Graham surveys the possibilities of a ‘new Beveridge’ in the current context and articulates ‘five goods’ for a constructive vision of a renewed welfare society.
Next, Christopher Baker examines two of Temple’s core policy constructs—responsible citizenship and intermediate groupings— to explore the extent to which they offer insights into our current post-pandemic context. Baker argues for a creative re-imagination of intermediate groups as a way of understanding contemporary responsible citizenship by reference to new structures of volunteering, activism and reflexive meaning-making.
Finally, CL Wren Radford explores changes to the welfare system through the period of austerity starting in 2009, highlighting how divisions between ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ populations have been re-entrenched, and the implications this has for intervening in inequality debates in the UK. If the churches and other agencies are to reframe Beveridge’s concerns, they will need to pay attention to how the welfare system is experienced by marginalised groups, and consider carefully the implications for Christian ethical reflection and action.
With this anniversary issue on Beveridge’s report, our intention is not to create an image of a ‘golden age’ of welfare—not least because attitudes questioning who is deserving of state support and problematic exclusions in the welfare system have always existed. Similarly, Beveridge’s Report does not offer us an ideal Christian contribution to society and welfare nor a template to simply ‘update’ in the contemporary context. Rather, the four articles in this special issue together enable reflection on how we can understand and engage with contested debates surrounding welfare, good citizenship, and society in Christian ethics in the UK context. The issue draws together historical and contemporary resources and raises questions for how Christian ethics might offer crucial re-imaginings of welfare and society.
The Christian contribution to the development of the welfare state between the wars and its inauguration after the Second World War is not in doubt. We hope that this special issue assists in understanding more carefully what that contribution was and is. Moreover, in a very different—a more plural, less stratified, more secular, and more religiously diverse—society, we hope that this issue also contributes to the renewal of our thinking about the welfare state.
CL Wren Radford is Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Lincoln Theological Institute, University of Manchester.
Peter Scott is Director of the Institute, and a member of the Crucible Editorial Board.