The Beveridge vision
The Beveridge vision

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The Beveridge vision

2.2 Problems with implementation

Writing a report is one thing – getting it implemented as policy is another. In the full version of An Introduction to the Beveridge Report, Jacobs (1992a) makes clear that there were a number of departures from the blueprint when the Labour government came to steering the legislation through parliament. One was a move to greater generosity. The report had recommended that the new pensions should be phased in over a period of 20 years to allow people to build up their contributions. This was the one provision that was strongly criticised, and the decision was taken instead that pensions should start being paid straight away. All the other changes rendered the provisions less generous. Marriage grants and training grants for self-employed people and those who had never been employed were discarded. Unemployment benefit was not to be indefinite but to last only for 30 weeks. Most importantly of all, given the hope to put an end to poverty, the level of all the payments from the contributory scheme, including pension payments, fell below the minimum needed for subsistence. The result was that national assistance – and its associated intrusive and inquiring bureaucracy of means testing – over the years became more important, rather than less important as Beveridge had intended. Jacobs points out that in 1990, for example, over 60 per cent of those claiming unemployment benefits either had exhausted their entitlement to benefit or had not ever been employed for long enough to build it up in the first place. The giant of Want still stalked the land.

One obvious reason why the Beveridge scheme did not ultimately abolish poverty was that the full employment assumption – which worked well through the 1950s with a buoyant economy and indeed shortages of labour – was not sustained indefinitely. Unemployment doubled between 1979 and 1981, hit a peak of over three million in the middle of the decade, and rose again in the 1990s recession. But there were also other changes – again for the most part ones that Beveridge could not easily have foreseen – that put pressure on the underlying principles of the scheme. Some of the social changes that put pressure on the post-war settlement were:

  • a growing rate of divorce

  • rising numbers of lone parents

  • growing proportions of people over retirement age.

Key points

The Beveridge report set out key principles for the welfare state:

  • It stressed the need for state action in the form of income protection.

  • It emphasised the insurance principle.

  • It provided for health and education through taxation.

  • It commanded high levels of public support.


  • It was based on assumptions of continuing high employment and a stable family unit – hence economic and social changes ultimately put the welfare state under pressure.

By now, you may well be wondering why this course is spending so much time on something that does not at first sight seem to be about care at all. But if we look a little more closely at how Beveridge justified his scheme, what he said and what he took for granted – particularly about care and caring – some important features emerge. The next section teases out some limitations to set alongside the strengths of Beveridge's vision. These limitations have left important legacies for how we understand and respond to the needs for health and social care today.


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