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Beveridge's Trojan Horse

Harriet Jones assesses the historic blueprint for Britain's post-war Welfare State and what part it played in Labour's 1945 election landslide victory.

On the morning of December 2nd, 1942, the British media was saturated with news of the publication of Social Insurance and Allied Services, the report of a government committee chaired by Sir William Beveridge. Coming as it did, at the turn of British fortunes, soon after the news of the breakthrough at El Alamein, the report was seized upon with enthusiasm by a war weary population which needed an optimistic vision of the post-war world. Within days it was clear that the Beveridge Report, which described a comprehensive system of social security for every citizen 'from the cradle to the grave', had filled this void. Some of the longest queues of the war were formed at the government bookshop in central London to obtain a copy. Two weeks later, a BIPO report determined that 95 per cent of those questioned had heard of the Report, 88 per cent were in favour, and only 6 per cent against. Interest was marked particularly among the lower income groups, and 52 per cent believed that the government would back the scheme. Nevertheless, there was considerable scepticism already about the government response. The report from the police duty room in Grimsby on December 4th is typical of those submitted to the Home office:

The Beveridge Report has been very favourably received by the general public and it already appears obvious that any attempt seriously to oppose these proposals will be regarded by many citizens as an interference by vested interests. It appears to the writer to have aroused interest in persons who do not ordinarily pay much attention to social problems.

The depth of popular feeling in favour of the Beveridge proposals became a serious dilemma for Churchill's coalition government. Labour and Conservative politicians were subsequently pushed towards compromise agreements on an agenda for social reform in the face of overwhelming public pressure for which Sir William's report was largely responsible.

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