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William Beveridge
Born 5 March 1879(1879-03-05)
Rangpur, India (now Bangladesh)
Died 16 March 1963 (aged 84)
Oxford, Oxfordshire, England.
Nationality British
Education Charterhouse School and Balliol College, Oxford.
Occupation Economist
Known for Work towards founding Britain's welfare state.
Title 1st Baron Beveridge

William Henry Beveridge, 1st Baron Beveridge (5 March 1879 – 16 March 1963) was a British economist and social reformer. He is perhaps best known for his 1942 report Social Insurance and Allied Services (known as the Beveridge Report) which served as the basis for the post-World War II Welfare State put in place by the Labour government.


Early life and career

William Beveridge, the eldest son of Henry Beveridge, an Indian Civil Service officer and scholar Annette (Akroyd) Beveridge, was born in Rangpur, India (now Rangpur, Bangladesh), on 5 March 1879. After studying at Charterhouse School and Balliol College, Oxford, he became a lawyer.

Beveridge became interested in the social services and wrote about the subject for the Morning Post newspaper.

In 1908, now considered to be the United Kingdom's leading authority on unemployment insurance, he joined the Board of Trade, and helped organise the implementation of the national system of labour exchanges and National Insurance; the government began to take action to combat poverty.

During World War I (1914–1918) Beveridge was involved in mobilising and controlling manpower. After the war, he was knighted and made permanent secretary to the Ministry of Food.

In 1919 he left the civil service to become director of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Over the next few years he served on several commissions and committees on social policy.

Beveridge in the 1910s.

Lord Beveridge was so highly influenced by the Fabian Society socialists – in particular by Beatrice Potter Webb, with whom he worked on the 1909 Poor Laws report – that he could readily be considered one of their number. However, he was perhaps the best economist among them – his early work on unemployment (1909) and his massive historical study of prices and wages (1939) being clear testaments to his scholarship. The Fabians made him a director of the LSE in 1919, a post he retained until 1937. His continual jousts with Cannan and Robbins, who were trying to wrench the LSE away from its Fabian roots, are now legendary.

An important role he performed in 1933, which is sometimes forgotten nowadays, was helping set up the Academic Assistance Council. This helped prominent German Jewish academics escape Nazi persecution.

In 1937, Beveridge was appointed Master of University College, Oxford.

Wartime work

Three years later, Ernest Bevin, Minister of Labour in the wartime National government, invited Beveridge to take charge of the Welfare department of his Ministry. Beveridge refused, but declared an interest in organising British manpower in wartime (Beveridge had come to favour a strong system of centralised planning). Bevin was reluctant to let Beveridge have his way but did commission him to work on a relatively unimportant manpower survey from June 1940 and so Beveridge became a temporary civil servant. Neither Bevin nor the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry Sir Thomas Phillips liked working with Beveridge as both found him conceited.[1]

An opportunity for Bevin to ease Beveridge out presented itself in May 1941 when Minister of Health Ernest Brown announced the formation of a committee of officials to survey existing social insurance and allied services, and to make recommendations. Although Brown had made the announcement, the inquiry had largely been urged by Minister without Portfolio Arthur Greenwood, and Bevin suggested to Greenwood making Beveridge chairman of the committee. Beveridge, at first uninterested and seeing the committee as a distraction from his work on manpower, accepted only reluctantly.[2]

The Report to the 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". It recommended that the government should find ways of fighting the five 'Giant Evils' of Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness. Beveridge included as one of three fundamental assumptions the fact that there would be a National Health Service of some sort, a policy already being worked on in the Ministry of Health.[3]

One of its 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 labour 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%) as the pivot of the social welfare programme he expressed in the 1942 Beveridge Report, and Full Employment in a Free Society (1944) expressed how this goal might be gained.[4] Alternative measures for achieving it included Keynesian-style fiscal regulation, direct control of manpower, and state control of the means of production. 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.

Later career

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 in a by-election to succeed George Charles Grey, who had died on the battlefield in Normandy, France, on the first day of Operation Bluecoat on 30 July, 1944. Beveridge briefly served the constituency of Berwick-upon-Tweed.

The following year the new Labour Government began the process of implementing Beveridge's proposals that provided the basis of the modern Welfare State. Clement Attlee and the Labour Party defeated Winston Churchill's Conservative Party in the 1945 general election. Attlee announced he would introduce the Welfare State outlined in the 1942 Beveridge Report. This included the establishment of a National Health Service in 1948 with taxpayer funded 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. William Beveridge was the author of Power and Influence (1953). He died at his home on 16 March, 1963, and was buried in Thockrington churchyard, on the Northumbrian moors. His barony became extinct upon his death.

His last words, as he sat up in bed whilst still working on his 'History of Prices', were "I have a thousand things to do".

Support for eugenics

Beveridge was a strong proponent of Eugenics. He argued in 1909 that “those men who through general defects are unable to fill such a whole place in industry, are to be recognised as 'unemployable'. They must become the acknowledged dependents of the State... but with complete and permanent loss of all citizen rights — including not only the franchise but civil freedom and fatherhood.“[5]


  • Unemployment: A problem of industry, 1909.
  • Prices and Wages in England from the Twelfth to the Nineteenth Century, 1939.
  • Social Insurance and Allied Services, 1942. (Beveridge Report) - excerpts available from Modern History Sourcebook.
  • Full Employment in a Free Society, 1944.
  • The Economics of Full Employment, 1944.
  • Why I am a Liberal, 1945.
  • Plan for Britain: A Collection of Essays prepared for the Fabian Society by G D H Cole, Aneurin Bevan, Jim Griffiths, L F Easterbrook, Sir William Beveridge, and Harold J Laski (Not illustrated with 127 text pages). [6]



  1. ^ Paul Addison, "The Road to 1945", Jonathan Cape, 1975, p. 117.
  2. ^ Paul Addison, "The Road to 1945", Jonathan Cape, 1975, p. 169.
  3. ^ Paul Addison, "The Road to 1945", Jonathan Cape, 1975, p. 169-170.
  4. ^ According to Nobel Laureate Friedrich Hayek, this book was ghost-written by Nicholas Kaldor. Hayek said of Beveridge, "[H]e wasn't the least interested in economics. He knew no economics whatever." Cf. Kresge, Stephan, and Wenar, Leif, Hayek on Hayek, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994), p. 86.
  5. ^ Sewell, Dennis (November 2009), "How eugenics poisoned the welfare state", The Spectator,  
  6. ^ Detail taken from Plan for Britain published by George Routledge with a date of 1943 and no ISBN

See also

External links

Educational offices
Preceded by
William Pember Reeves
Director of the London School of Economics
1919 – 1937
Succeeded by
Alexander Carr-Saunders
Preceded by
Arthur Blackburne Poynton
Master of University College, Oxford
Succeeded by
John Herbert Severn Wild
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
George Charles Grey
Member of Parliament for Berwick-upon-Tweed
Succeeded by
Robert Thorp
Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
New Creation
Baron Beveridge
Succeeded by


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

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.

William Henry Beveridge, 1st Baron Beveridge of Tuggal (5 March 187916 March 1963) was a British economist and social reformer.


The state is or can be master of money, but in a free society it is master of very little else.
  • The trouble in modern democracy is that men do not approach to leadership 'til they have lost the desire to lead anyone.
    • As quoted in "Sayings of the Week" in The Observer [London] (15 April 1934)
  • Scratch a pessimist and you find often a defender of privilege.
    • As quoted in "Sayings of the Week" in The Observer [London] (17 December 1943)
  • Ignorance is an evil weed, which dictators may cultivate among their dupes, but which no democracy can afford among its citizens.
    • Full Employment in a Free Society (1944) Pt. 7
  • The state is or can be master of money, but in a free society it is master of very little else.
    • Voluntary Action (1948) Ch. 12

Social Insurance and Allied Services (1942)

Social Insurance and Allied Services (The "Beveridge Report") (2 December 1942)
  • Any proposals for the future, while they should use to the full the experience gathered in the past, should not be restricted by consideration of sectional interests established in the obtaining of that experience. Now, when the war is abolishing landmarks of every kind, is the opportunity for using experience in a clear field. A revolutionary moment in the world’s history is a time for revolutions, not for patching.
    • Pt. 1, 7
  • Organisation of social insurance should be treated as one part only of a comprehensive policy of social progress. Social insurance fully developed may provide income security; it is an attack upon Want. But Want is one only of five giants on the road of reconstruction and in some ways the easiest to attack. The others are Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness.
    • Pt. 1, 8
  • Social security must be achieved by co-operation between the State and the individual. The State should offer security for service and contribution. The State in organising security should not stifle incentive, opportunity, responsibility ; in establishing a national minimum, it should leave room and encouragement for voluntary action by each individual to provide more than that minimum for himself and his family.
    • Pt. 1, 9
  • 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.
    • Pt. 7

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