Social insurance and allied services – report by Sir William Beveridge (1942)

The Inter-Departmental Committee led by Sir William Beveridge had been tasked with reviewing the operation of social insurance schemes and making recommendations on ways of bringing them together. Its report was published on 2 December 1942. Though widely considered a founding father of the NHS, he said little about health services, seeing them as a means to a productive economy.

At the heart of Beveridge’s plan was the creation of a compulsory social insurance scheme which would provide a level of non-means tested benefit in return for contributions. The insurance scheme would be supported by allowances for dependent children, the establishment of comprehensive health and rehabilitation services and the avoidance of mass-unemployment (ie through central government action to promote employment opportunities).

The final recommendations were representative of Beveridge’s own views. (The other committee members were civil servants and it was deemed inappropriate for them to contribute to the recommendations.) Beveridge identified five ‘giants’ that would need to be tackled, namely: want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness (Beveridge, 1942).

Beveridge believed that medical treatment (covering all treatment and every form of disability) should be separate from the administration of financial benefits. He envisioned that through the provision of a National Health Service, improvements in health would be made, preventing illness and absence from employment (Godber, 1975).

Public opinion polls found that the majority of the British public welcomed the proposals in the report and wished for their implementation as soon as possible. Labour politicians were supportive of the proposals and eventually, following the General Election in 1945, the Labour government implemented Beveridge’s recommendations by establishing the welfare state and National Health Service.