The Beveridge vision
The Beveridge vision

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The Beveridge vision

2.3 Did Beveridge wear blinkers?

Activity 2: Who isn't mentioned?

Timing: 0 hours 10 minutes

Jacobs singled out several groups who were not covered by the insurance scheme. They include:

  • unmarried women not in work (often caring for elderly parents or other relatives)

  • single parents

  • divorced and separated wives

  • some disabled people (those who had never been able to work or who had not worked for long enough to build up a contribution record).

Can you suggest why these particular groups were outside the scheme? (Think about what they have in common.)


What these four groups have in common is that they are not wage earners and the need to carry out care or to be cared for themselves is central to their lives. For much of the twentieth century, the unmarried daughter stayed at home to care for elderly parents and may never have actually held a paid job. A single-parent mother with childcare responsibilities will find it difficult to arrange and pay for adequate childcare so that she can go out to work, so she too is often outside the labour market for care reasons. (Changes to the tax/benefit system, together with increased possibilities for childcare, however, have recently helped single mothers who are in paid work.) People with disabilities, as Jacobs points out, may never have been able to work or may not have worked for long. They too are outside the labour market, not because they provide care but because they need to receive it to some degree. Divorced or separated women are a potential exception to this – they may or may not have childcare responsibilities but, if they do, as lone parents they too will find that caring has to take precedence over entry to the labour market.

It was inevitable that groups such as these were exceptions in the Beveridge model. He had based his plan on an able-bodied man, participating in the labour market, supported by a wife who was able to provide care for children, care for him in periods of sickness and in old age, and perhaps care for elderly parents too. If the man was not able-bodied, or if the woman with children did not have a husband, the mainstream provisions of the scheme did not apply.

Do these limitations matter? If our interest is in how care gets provided, the answer is ‘yes’. The individual in Beveridge's mind, the one for whom he was designing his scheme, was the working man – the male breadwinner, providing for wife and family. The key people in his scheme were able-bodied men – occasionally ill and finally old! Those who were vulnerable to repeated periods of mental illness, or had learning difficulties, or were physically disabled, suffered from chronic illness or were otherwise unable to participate in the labour market did not come on to the public agenda very clearly at all. Publicly provided ‘care’ entered the Beveridge vision in the shape of illness that needed medical treatment – which the new NHS would provide. He left others to fill in exactly what the reach of the new health service would be.


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