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From Poor Law to Beveridge Report
THE publication of the Beveridge Report on Social Insurance and Allied Services in December 1942 not only opened a new chapter in British social history. It was an event of some significance for all the democratic nations of the world. Two years earlier President Roosevelt had outlined the "Four Freedoms" which should inspire the common exertions of those who were opposed to Nazi and Fascist tyranny, and his inclusion among them of "freedom from want" had been underwritten by the fifth and sixth clauses of the Atlantic Charter. Now a prosaic, closely-printed official report set out a practical, workmanlike scheme for realizing in one great democracy an important part of what the President and Mr. Churchill had defined as the purpose of our joint endeavors. Deeply felt but vague aspirations were crystallized in a form which, though designed for one country, might well prove to be adaptable to the circumstances of others. Probably that is why the Report -- a "best seller" at home -- should also have aroused widespread interest and considerable enthusiasm abroad.
The Report is the result of eighteen months of intensive work by an inter-departmental committee, appointed by the minister responsible for reconstruction planning, under the vigorous and stimulating chairmanship of Sir William Beveridge. It shows with admirable clarity and directness how involuntary poverty can be abolished from British social life by a redistribution of about one-tenth of the national output of goods and services in favor of those citizens whose needs are greatest. It shows also how familiar methods and institutions can be improved and adapted in order to achieve this distribution without setting up dangerous frictions or imposing crippling burdens on any section of the community. It is a prescription for a characteristically British-style revolution, in which an attempt is made to use all that is valuable in the experience and institutions of the past as well as the creative insights of adventurous minds.