A minor error in the Beveridge Report

This week marks seventy-five years since the publication of the Beveridge Report. The report provided a vision of a National Insurance scheme which would provide people with sickness and unemployment benefits, retirement pensions, widows’ pensions and industrial injuries payments, in return for the payment of national insurance contributions. Today there is much discussion of what has been lost since Beveridge’s vision of a welfare state which would slay the five giants of ‘Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness’. And rightly so. Seventy-five years since this report was published, we find levels of poverty and inequality which Beveridge thought would be eliminated.

On publication day (1 December 1942) people queued overnight to buy a copy and it sold 60,000 copies straight away. Nicholas Timmins speculated whether it may ‘stand alongside Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time as one of the most bought, but least read books ever published in Britain’ (For more information see Timmins, Nicholas, The Five Giants: A Biography of the Welfare State (London: Harper Collins, 1995, new edition 2017).

Beveridge wasn’t right about everything though. Many have criticised him for assuming a model of working life which depended on a male breadwinner, employed in stable work between leaving school and retiring, married to a housewife in a lifetime heterosexual relationship. He was wrong about lifetime secure jobs. He was wrong about women. He was wrong about marriage. He did not give adequate attention to disabled people who find it difficult to find work through discrimination and lack of support.  The scheme did not cope well for people in precarious work or to people who struggle to stay in full-time employment. The world has changed. Many of Beveridge’s assumptions were wrong, or have been overturned by demographic change. His scheme has been diluted by the erosion of the surrounding scaffolding of full employment and the wider welfare state.

Beveridge was wrong about a lot of things, and it isn’t entirely fair to criticise him for being unable to foresee the future, but my copy of his report is still one of my most treasured possessions:

Social Insurance and Allied Services – the Beveridge Report, 1974 reprint

My own copy of the report is a reprint from 1974, (price £2.35) which I acquired second-hand some time in the 1990s for £5.25. You can usually access it online these days but not back in the 1990s and sometimes it’s good to have a hard copy.   The report has a wealth of information about Beveridge’s thinking behind his scheme. The report and its appendices, running to 200,000 words, is also full of detail about the pre-war National Insurance scheme.  It has provided me with valuable information for my research project.

Beveridge’s typo

I was looking at it today, not because of the anniversary of its publication but because I needed some information in it about levels of sickness benefit in 1911.  Beveridge was wrong about many things but he also has a typo in his report. On page 215 he notes that the original 1911 sickness benefit was paid at a lower rate to ‘unmarried miners’. No William, not miners, minors: people under the age of 21.  Young people were assumed to need less income when they were ill than their older neighbours but this rule was later changed. Women were paid at lower rates than men. Anybody claiming benefit for more than twenty-six weeks was paid at half the rate.  Later, married women were paid at lower rates than unmarried women but miners (men) were eligible for the full rate of benefit for the first twenty-six weeks of their claim.

But the report is so useful and so important. I can forgive him this typo.

More old books – the Family Guide to National Insurance

I’m not a collector of old books but some seem to come my way – like the Family Guide to National Insurance which was published to tell people about their rights under the 1948 National Insurance Scheme.  I’ve just written an article about this in the Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly – copy also available through Edinburgh Research Explorer. The article discusses the 1948 National Insurance scheme, the Family Guide to National Insurance and its reception by the public in 1948.  It is part of a special issue on legal model making. You can find out more about my adventures with the Guide and the legal treasures project here

If you want to know more about the Beveridge Report, there is useful information and discussion in this Open University resource
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Mary Macarthur

I’m delighted to see that Mary Macarthur, who was a campaigner for women’s rights to sickness benefits, has been commemorated today by a blue plaque on her home in London. Information here

In her very short life, Mary Macarthur was active in the labour and trade union movement, campaigning for women’s rights in the workplace. She stood (unsuccessfully) for parliament in 1918, as a Labour candidate, campaigning, among other things, for equal pay, a living wage, peace, the abolition of the Poor Law and the House of Lords and the right of allotment holders to ‘the fruits and vegetables of their labours’.*

Mary Macarthur and sickness benefits

Less well known are her efforts to improve sickness benefits for working women.  The UK’s first national insurance sickness benefit scheme was launched in 1911.  Within a year of its introduction a committee was set up to look at ‘excessive claims’ for benefit.  The committee met for seven months and collected evidence from ninety-four witnesses and looked at 1,500 pages of written evidence.  Mary Macarthur was a member of the committee, representing the Women’s Trade Union League.  Her involvement on the committee included listening to the evidence of the witnesses, giving evidence on behalf of the National Federation of Women Workers and writing a dissenting memorandum to the final report.  In her evidence and her dissenting memorandum she stressed the need to take account of the realities of working class women’s lives in deciding their claims for sickness benefit.  She dismissed ideas that women were claiming benefit in order to get away from the factories, or because they could get more money from benefit than they could earn her wages, or because they couldn’t understand the principles of the insurance scheme.  She argued instead that women had a right to benefit because they were ill and had contributed to the scheme through their work in the factories.

For more information about the committee and Mary Macarthur’s involvement in the sickness benefit scheme, see my contribution to the Dangerous Women project and  Gulland, J. (2013), ‘Extraordinary Housework: women and claims for sickness benefit in the early 20th century’, Women’s History Magazine, 71, Spring 2013, pp23-30.

For further information on Mary Macarthur, see Angela John, ‘Macarthur, Mary Reid (1880-1921)’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2004).  Available at http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/30411 Access to the online edition is often available through public libraries

* Election address reproduced in Barnesly, T. 2010 Breaking their chains: Mary Macarthur and the chainmaker’s strike of 1910, London: Bookmarks Publications.

Hunt, C. (2014) The National Federation of Women Workers, 1906-1921. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.

 

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Owls in the archives

Researchers often talk about serendipity in research: that means coming across something when you didn’t expect to, or as the dictionary defines it: ‘the faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident’ (Oxford English Dictionary). My last trip to the National Library of Scotland produced such a happy accident. I was trying to find a copy of the ‘model rules’ for approved societies from 1912. These advised societies how to write rules about things like ‘behaviour during sickness’, for example when it would be appropriate to stop someone’s benefit because they had been drinking or fighting. I knew I had read these in the library before and had made some notes but wanted to check them again for further details. So I duly ordered them up through the online library catalogue. Instead of providing me with just one booklet, the librarian produced an entire box of leaflets and pamphlets – it seemed there was more than one copy of the model rules. There were rules for men, rules for women, rules for Scotland, rules for England, rules for Ireland, rules for new societies, rules for old societies. Actually they were all quite similar to each other (at least in relation to things that I was interested in). The most exciting thing for me though was a tiny little leaflet which turned out to be in entirely the wrong place. This leaflet was ‘The Family Guide to National Insurance’*, published in 1948 and, it seems, delivered to every household in the country. In it was an introduction to the scheme and, best of all, cartoons of owls. Owls claiming benefits:

Family Guide 1948 'making a claim'

Family Guide 1948 ‘making a claim’

Owls cashing their benefits

Family Guide 1948 cashing order

Family Guide 1948 cashing order

I loved it. I couldn’t borrow it from the library but I found a copy online in the Science Museum, an archive film about the guide on the Pathé website and, eventually, a copy available from a second hand bookseller, so I now I have my very own ‘Family Guide’. I told the library that the booklet was wrongly filed so I hope they will now be able to catalogue it and make it available to other enthusiasts (whether interested in National Insurance, public information, mid-century cartoons or owls).

What does this add to my research though? Well the process of looking for the booklet also led me to the Science Museum and the Pathé website and a whole world of archive material on the post-war National Insurance scheme. That probably doesn’t add much to my actual research but it gives me another glimpse into the world when the scheme was first introduced – and an excuse to put owls on my blog (and tweet about them @JackieGulland).

* Ministry of National Insurance (1948) Family Guide to the National Insurance Scheme. London: HMSO.

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