Beveridge report - archive 1942

The Beveridge report, which provided the blueprint for the postwar welfare state, was published 75 years ago. This resource looks at the Manchester Guardian’s response to its publication and Sir William Beveridge’s subsequent involvement with the Observer

The Social Insurance and Allied Services report, as it was officially known, was produced by civil servant Sir William Beveridge. He had been involved in drafting the National Insurance Act for Asquith’s Liberal government in 1911 and had subsequently become director of the London School of Economics.

Rationing, improvements to the health of the nation such as free milk and cod liver oil to children, free orange juice and vitamins for pregnant mothers, and the abolition of the means test, encouraged many politicians in the coalition government to believe that the state should have a role in ensuring that there would not be a return to the conditions of depression after the war.

In June 1941, at the height of the war when victory was not assured, Beveridge was appointed chairman of a special committee set up by the war time coalition government to evaluate existing social insurance schemes and to make recommendations which could be implemented once the war was over. The report presented on 30 November 1942 went much further than the original brief.

The report identified five giants that needed to be addressed in post war reconstruction – want, disease, ignorance, idleness and squalor. It recommended a plan for social security services “from the cradle to the grave” through a national insurance system of weekly contributions. Benefits such as family allowances, maternity grants, pensions, unemployment payments and free medical treatment would be universal.

Despite the wartime limitations placed on newspapers by newsprint rationing and the huge volume of news from the various war fronts, the Manchester Guardian on 2 December believed the report to be so “revolutionary” that it devoted the central section of the main news page to the report followed by detailed analysis taking up the whole of the subsequent page.

On the main news page the paper summarises the key suggestions and produces a table comparing current provision under the existing social services for a family of two children to that proposed by the report. Seventy years later in 2012, Richard Nelsson and Paul Scurton, writing for the Guardian’s From the archive blog turned the chart into a graphic.

Manchester Guardian 2 December 1942 page 6, analysis of Beveridge Report
Manchester Guardian 2 December 1942 page 6, analysis of Beveridge Report Photograph: Guardian

Page six of the paper devotes the full seven columns to outlining the recommendations of the report and its importance for morale. It also has an article declaring that planning and implementation needs to start during the war.

There is also an extensive leader column on the “great plan” praising the report’s scope and potential. It finishes by warning “For if we do not get something like the “Plan for Social Security” into place before the war is over the political consequences will be serious. Instead of victory we will have suffered defeat.”

Manchester Guardian, Wednesday 2 December, 1942, summary, page 5

Manchester Guardian, Wednesday 2 December, 1942, outline of recommendations page 6

When David Astor took over the running of the Observer in early 1942 the paper went through a radical transformation in values, content and layout. He was such a keen supporter of creating a fairer post war society and Beveridge report that he invited its author to write for the paper. The front page announced on 6 December 1942 that: “The Observer has arranged for Sir William Beveridge to write regularly in the near future on the great social issues now confronting the nation.” Richard Cockett, in his book on David Astor and the Observer, notes that Beveridge also attended many weekly editorial meetings and played a role in shaping the paper’s strategy.

Beveridge wrote articles until the early 1950s on social reform and international policy and also reviewed books. The GNM Archive holds a set of Terry Kilmartin’s correspondence as literary editor from June to July 1952, commissioning Beveridge to review a new book on the Victorian public health reformer Edwin Chadwick.

How to access past Guardian / Observer articles

Further reading

Related Guardian articles

Guardian leader - in praise of ... Beveridge at 70

Want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness: are Beveridge’s five evils back?

A William Beveridge for this century’s welfare state

As the 1942 Beveridge report said: in a crisis, be revolutionary

Meet the real William Beveridge


Margaret Holborn

The GuardianTramp

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