William Henry Beveridge

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Beveridge, William Henry


William Henry Beveridge, Baron Beveridge (1879–1963), creator of Britain’s post-World War II social security system, was born in Bengal. He was the son of Henry Beveridge of the Indian Civil Service, from whom, presumably, he learned to be a good administrator; one of the most human of Beveridge’s books is the biography of his parents, published in 1947 under the title India Called Them. He came to England at an early age and was educated at the Charterhouse School and at Balliol College, Oxford. At Oxford his early studies in mathematics and classics were equally distinguished, and in 1902 he secured a first-class degree in the latter. He was elected to the Stowell civil law fellowship at University College, Oxford, which he held from 1902 to 1909, taking a Bachelor of Civil Law degree in 1904. From 1903 to 1905 he was also subwarden of Toynbee Hall in Whitechapel, an industrial section of London, where he acquired his first insight into the problems of modern society.

At this time he also met Sidney and Beatrice Webb. Although at first they did not get on very well, later, when the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws was appointed in 1905, Mrs. Webb enrolled Beveridge in the ranks of the assistant inquirers who helped her to produce, in 1909, the famous Minority Report, with its detailed scheme for what subsequently came to be called social security. Just prior to the issue of the Report, Beveridge published his first major work, Unemployment:A Problem of Industry (1909), which established him as an economist of parts. The Webbs having introduced him to Winston Churchill, then president of the Board of Trade, Beveridge entered this department in 1908, and the following year he was made director of the newly formed system of labor exchanges.

For the next ten years Beveridge was a civil servant; he went to the new Ministry of Munitions in 1915 and to the Ministry of Food the following year, becoming permanent secretary in 1919. In both these posts he was assisted by his cousin Janet (Jessy) Mair as personal secretary; she continued to serve him in that capacity long after he left the civil service, and in 1942, after the death of her first husband, they were married.

When World War i ended and the wartime ministries were dissolved, the Webbs, seeking a vigorous director to succeed William Pember Reeves at the London School of Economics, invited Beveridge to take on the job. He accepted, and during the 18 years of his administration, from 1919 to 1937, he succeeded in greatly expanding the scope of work and increasing the physical facilities at the school. He was not, however, always so successful in his personal relations. The student body, which had a distinctly radical tendency, sometimes resented his disciplinary methods, and he had several brushes with one of the most distinguished members of his staff, Harold Laski. In 1937 he left the school in order to become master of University College, Oxford.

Until World War n Beveridge was known mainly as a competent economist and statistician; the first volume of a large study called Prices and Wages in England, edited by him, appeared in 1939. With World War n his opportunity came. In 1941 he was appointed chairman of the Inter-departmental Committee on Social Insurance and Allied Services. This was in fact a one-man operation; the civil servants on the committee were no more than investigators who took instructions from the chairman. The following year brought the result of the committee’s work, the Beveridge Report, which was an instant popular success and carried the name of Beveridge to millions, in and out of the armed services. The refusal of the government to declare unequivocally in its favor produced the only sizable antigovernment vote between 1940 and 1945. The report contributed in no small degree to the Labour party’s victory in 1945, after which it was implemented by the Labour government’s social legislation.

The Beveridge Report sought, as had Beatrice Webb 33 years earlier, to protect the individual against the poverty and destitution caused by the principal hazards of modern life. Its main differences from the earlier scheme were that it accepted the contributory principle, which had become part of the state insurance system, and that it did not deal with the prevention of unemployment. (Beveridge tackled the problem of unemployment in a subsequent book, Full Employment in a Free Society, 1944.) The report was an extremely competent piece of work, but its success was due as much to its timeliness as to its competence. The two other reports in which Beveridge had a part, one on fuel rationing (1942a) and one on the future of broad-casting, were not so impressive, and they were not put into effect.

In 1944 a by-election at Berwick-on-Tweed returned Beveridge triumphantly to Parliament as a Liberal, but when he stood as an independent in the following year he was heavily defeated. The local electorate preferred to vote for the candidate of the Labour party, which was pledged to introduce social security. Greatly disappointed, he accepted a peerage; he had resigned the mastership of his college on his election to Parliament. Later he took on the chairmanship of Aycliffe and Peterlee, two of the “new towns” set up under Labour government legislation; these were in the northeast, where he actually lived for a while. Beveridge wrote many articles in various journals, took a vigorous part in debate in the House of Lords, and in 1953 published a volume of autobiography, Power and Influence.

Margaret Cole

[See alsoWelfare state.]


(1909) 1930 Unemployment: A Problem of Industry (1909 and 1930). New ed. London and New York: Longmans.

1939 Prices and Wages in England From the Twelfth to the Nineteenth Century. New York and London: Long-mans. → Beveridge was the senior author.

1942a Fuel Rationing: Report by Sir William Beveridge, K.C.B., to the President of the Board of Trade. Papers by Command, Cmd. 6352. London: H.M. Stationery Office.

1942b Great Britain, inter-departmental Committee on Social Insurance and Allied ServicesSocial Insurance and Allied Services. Report by Sir William Beveridge. London: H.M. Stationery Office; New York: Macmillan. → Known as the Beveridge Report.

(1944) 1945 Full Employment in a Free Society. New York: Norton.

1947 India Called Them. London: Allen & Unwin.

1948 Voluntary Action: A Report on Methods of Social Advance. London: Allen; New York: Macmillan.

(1953) 1955 Power and Influence. New York: Beech-hurst.

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William Henry Beveridge

The English economist and social reformer William Henry Beveridge, 1st Baron Beveridge of Tuggal (1879-1963), authored the Beveridge Report, which advocated cradle-to-grave social security legislation in Great Britain following World War II.

William Beveridge was born in Bengal, India, on March 5, 1879, the son of an Englishman employed in the Indian civil service. Educated at Oxford, Beveridge took firsts in mathematics and classics. He then studied law, but he found the prospect of following a legal career lacking in challenge. Instead he accepted an appointment as subwarden of Toynbee Hall, a settlement house in the East End of London.

Beveridge was soon lecturing and writing lead articles dealing with social issues for the Morning Post. These led to his appointment in 1909 as director of labor exchanges and head of the employment department of the Board of Trade. While in this post he played a leading role in the creation of a system of labor exchanges and a system of unemployment insurance. His first book was Unemployment: A Problem of Industry (1909). During World War I he served in several key posts dealing with manpower and food-rationing programs. He was knighted in 1919 and appointed permanent secretary of the Ministry of Food the same year.

Beveridge became director of the London School of Economics and Political Science in 1919, and when he left in 1937 to become master of University College, Oxford, the London School had a worldwide reputation. During World War II he served his government in various capacities relating to manpower problems. In 1941 he was named chairman of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Social Insurance and Allied Services. Late in 1942 the famous Beveridge Report was made public and became the basis for the comprehensive social security legislation adopted in the following years.

Beveridge was elected member of Parliament for Berwick in 1944 but was defeated in the general election less than a year later. He was elevated to a barony in 1946 and was an active participant in the House of Lords.

One of the hallmarks of Lord Beveridge's work was a strong commitment to applied methods of social research. He served as president of the Royal Statistical Society from 1941 to 1943 and of the Institute of Statisticians from 1948 until his death at Oxford on March 16, 1963.

Further Reading

Beveridge's autobiography, Power and Influence (1953), contains documents, excerpts from his articles and speeches, and a selected bibliography of his published work, giving the reader insight into both his public and private life. Janet P. Beveridge, his coworker and wife, gives an excellent picture in Beveridge and His Plan (1954). Background works which discuss Beveridge include Walford Johnson, John Whyman, and George Wykes, A Short Economic and Social History of Twentieth Century Britain (1967); W. N. Medlicott, Contemporary England, 1914-1964 (1967); and Gertrude Williams, The Coming of the Welfare State (1967).

Additional Sources

Harris, Josae, William Beveridge: a biography, Oxford Eng.: Clarendon Press, 1977.

Mair, Philip Beveridge, Shared enthusiasm: the story of Lord and Lady Beveridge, Windlesham, Surrey: Ascent Books, 1982. □

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An Indian-born British economist, administrator, and social reformer, William Henry Beveridge (18791963) is remembered mainly for two principal accomplishments. The first was his reshaping of British social services during World War II, when he established a system of services that set out to meet social needs rather than papering over cracks in the fabric of society. This led directly to his second great achievement, accomplished during the darkest days of the war. In November 1942, the Beveridge Report on Social Insurance and Allied Services was published by the Inter-Departmental Committee on Social Insurance and Allied Services, of which Beveridge was chairman. The report was a blueprint for a complete and total national network of health and social services that would meet the needs of the British people for hospital-based and community wide medical care, including personal care by family doctors, public health and preventative services organized by local authorities, social support of the elderly and the handicapped, and a children's allowance to ensure adequate food and clothing, all to be financed by a national system of comprehensive social insurance. In the midst of the war, and with a right-wing conservative government in office, nothing was done about Beveridge's recommendations at that time; but with the election of a Labour government after the Germans surrendered in 1945, the political landscape changed.

Most of the recommendations in the Beveridge Report were implemented by 1948, when the British National Health Service (NHS) was established. Although compromises had to be made to the original blueprint, mainly to placate powerful medical lobby groups, the NHS, as originally established, was a good model for comprehensive, state- supported universal health care services. In its first fifty years the NHS evolved and underwent several reorganizations (some reflecting the changing demographics and advances in medical knowledge, others at the whim of political ideologues) but at the end of the twentieth century it remained an impressive monument to Beveridge's original vision.

John M. Last

(see also: National Health Systems; Social Medicine )

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Beveridge, William H. (1879–1963). Social reformer. Educated at Oxford, Beveridge joined Toynbee Hall, in London's East End, where he met Sidney and Beatrice Webb. Impressed by social-insurance arrangements in Prussia, he used his position as a leader-writer for the Morning Post to press the case for comprehensive welfare provision in Britain. In 1908 he joined the Board of Trade and played a major part in drafting the Labour Exchanges Act of 1909 and the National Insurance Act of 1911.

In 1919 Beveridge became director of the London School of Economics (LSE), which the Webbs had founded. While firmly establishing LSE's reputation in the social sciences, his inclination to autocracy caused inevitable clashes; in 1937 he resigned, to become master of University College, Oxford. At the outbreak of war in 1939 Beveridge hoped to be put in charge of wartime manpower administration. But his unhappy relationship with the trade unions in the First World War (he had helped to draft legislation restricting wartime collective bargaining) ruled this out. Instead he was asked to chair an inquiry into post-war social services. His two reports on social insurance (1942) and full employment (1944) formed the basis of the Labour government's welfare legislation in the later 1940s. He was given a peerage in 1946.

Geoffrey Alderman

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Beveridge, William Henry, Baron (1879–1963) British academic and social reformer. A director (1909–16) of the labour exchanges, Beveridge later became director (1919–37) of the London School of Economics and master (1937–45) of University College, Oxford. As chairman (1941–42) of the Committee on Social Insurance and Allied Services, he wrote the Beveridge Report, the basis of the British welfare state.

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