1879–1963 Tim Far­ron, for­mer Lib­eral Demo­crat leader, chooses

BBC History Magazine - - Contents - Tim Far­ron was the leader of the Lib­eral Democrats from 2015–17. He has been MP for West­mor­land and Lonsdale since 2005

Tim Far­ron chooses Wil­liam Bev­eridge


“From his early days Bev­eridge used his for­mi­da­ble skills as a lawyer and econ­o­mist to pro­mote so­cial re­form. He never lost this hunger”

il­liam Bev­eridge was an econ­o­mist and so­cial re­former, best known for his 1942 re­port ‘So­cial Insurance and Al­lied Ser­vices’ (the Bev­eridge Re­port), which formed the ba­sis for the post-Sec­ond World War wel­fare state. In 1908, he had joined the Board of Trade and helped im­ple­ment the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment’s na­tional sys­tem of labour ex­changes, as well as a Na­tional Insurance scheme de­signed to com­bat un­em­ploy­ment and poverty. He was di­rec­tor of the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics from 1919–37 and served briefly as a Lib­eral MP from 1944– 45.

When did you first hear about Wil­liam Bev­eridge?

A conversation with my nan made me think about what he had achieved. She ex­plained that she and my fa­ther might not have sur­vived his birth had it not been for the brand new Na­tional Health Ser­vice (NHS). There was a se­ri­ous com­pli­ca­tion which meant mother and baby (my fa­ther) spent a long time in hos­pi­tal.

What kind of per­son was he?

Bev­eridge had a sharp mind and a keen con­science, and was ea­ger to im­prove the lives of those so­ci­ety had for­got­ten. From his early days he used his for­mi­da­ble skills as a lawyer and econ­o­mist to pro­mote so­cial re­form. In the great re­form­ing Lib­eral gov­ern­ment of 1906–14, he helped es­tab­lish un­em­ploy­ment insurance and labour ex­changes. And he never lost this hunger for re­form. His dy­ing words were: “I have a thou­sand things to do.”

What made Bev­eridge a hero?

He had an enor­mous in­flu­ence on 20th-cen­tury Bri­tain. If Lloyd Ge­orge pro­vided the po­lit­i­cal bril­liance for the great wel­fare re­forms of the pre-First World War Lib­eral gov­ern­ment, Bev­eridge pro­vided the in­tel­lec­tual fire­power. And re­mem­ber, a lot of the build­ing blocks for the post-Sec­ond World War wel­fare state were first put in place by the Lib­er­als, driven in part by Bev­eridge’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to fight the five “gi­ant evils” of “want, disease, ig­no­rance, squalor and idle­ness”. This re­sulted in the poor, for the first time, be­ing given some pro­tec­tion from un­em­ploy­ment, ill­ness and poverty in old age. Later on, the Bev­eridge Re­port of 1942 es­tab­lished the post­war set­tle­ment and it broadly re­mains in place to­day.

What was Bev­eridge’s finest hour?

Although the 1945 elec­tion cut short Bev­eridge’s ca­reer as a Lib­eral MP, it started his most en­dur­ing legacy – the NHS. Labour was elected with a land­slide and set about im­ple­ment­ing the wel­fare state, which Bev­eridge had set out in his re­port. The jewel in the crown was the NHS, es­tab­lish­ing the prin­ci­ple that health care should be avail­able to all, re­gard­less of abil­ity to pay.

Is there any­thing you don’t par­tic­u­larly ad­mire about him?

Like many thinkers in the first half of the 20th cen­tury, Bev­eridge was in­ter­ested in eu­gen­ics, which makes us shud­der to­day. Even the great­est thinkers are still prod­ucts of their time.

Can you see any par­al­lels be­tween his life and your own?

The prin­ci­ples which guided him are in many ways the same as those that still guide the party I be­long to to­day. And I be­lieve we saw his in­flu­ence in Lib Dem poli­cies such as free early years ed­u­ca­tion, the pupil pre­mium, the na­tional ap­pren­tice­ship scheme and free school din­ners, which were all en­acted dur­ing the coali­tion years.

If you could meet Bev­eridge, what would you ask him?

About his hopes and dreams for the fu­ture of the NHS. I’d also love to know what it was like work­ing for fig­ures such as Churchill and Lloyd Ge­orge. Tim Far­ron was talk­ing to York Mem­bery

Wil­liam Bev­eridge was de­ter­mined to fight the five “gi­ant evils” of “want, disease, ig­no­rance, squalor and idle­ness”

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