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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A library and an art gallery: two Blakes in Newcastle 

Daniel Blake and Quentin Blake: what do a fictional character from a hard-hitting, award-winning Ken Loach film and a celebrated children’s book illustrator have in common?.  I found a connection at the Socio-Legal Studies Association annual conference, held this year at the University of Newcastle. I’ll try to explain.

The library – Daniel Blake

As I made my way through the Newcastle city streets, I could not help but notice the local accents and some of the memorable film locations in I Daniel Blake .  I passed the library where Daniel Blake tries to make an online claim for benefits and wondered if there were real people like him inside, struggling with the technology and the bureaucracy.  The library also contains a Citizens Advice Bureau so perhaps those real claimants will get the advice that Daniel Blake so desperately needed. It is perhaps obvious what the connection was between this film and the Socio-Legal Studies Association conference, where I spent most of my time in the Social Rights and Citizenship stream: listening to speakers discussing the effects of austerity and ‘welfare reform’, and the ways in which the law might, or might not, help to tackle the challenges of poverty and inequality.  I would have liked to go to other sessions, where people talked about access to justice, the increasing use of technology in social administration, homelessness, gender, disability: all themes that arise in this important film.  I referred to the film in my own paper, where I discussed historical data on how the welfare state has tried to distinguish between unemployment and ‘incapacity for work’.  Daniel Blake finds himself at the centre of this predicament but his problems are not new.  There were Daniel Blakes in the 1980s and in the 1930s, when disabled people and people with health issues struggled to find appropriate work at times of high unemployment and struggled to claim benefits when they could not access work. There were also Daniel Blakes in the 1950s, when the labour market was stronger but there was not always the right kind of work in the areas where people lived, or where social attitudes to gender and disability meant that disabled people were last in the queue for jobs.  Crucially, for my research, there were also women, facing different and often greater challenges to accessing benefits than men.  The connection between Daniel Blake and my paper at the conference was clear.

The Art Gallery – Quentin Blake

Opposite the library is the Laing Art Gallery, a less likely setting for my thoughts on this conference.  But here there was an exhibition of the work of Quentin Blake.

The conference package included a tour of the exhibition. Although I could not immediately see the socio-legal connection, as a committed fan of Quentin Blake’s work, I was not going to miss this.  The exhibition itself is stunning, with original art works, story boards, drafts, notes on how this great artist creates characters and scenes, how some of our favourite children’s book characters have come to life: Roald Dahls’s Matilda, and The Twits, David Walliams’ The Boy in the Dress, Michael Rosen in his devastating but somehow uplifting Sad Book and of course Quentin Blake’s own Cockatoos, Dancing Frog and the fabulous Captain Najork and his hired sportsmen (Information about all of these books here https://www.quentinblake.com/books). What I really loved about the exhibition was the space and the activity tables, which allowed adults as well as children to create their own stories, read the books and think about the nature of story-telling and illustration and, ultimately, being human.  You may think of Quentin Blake as an outstanding children’s illustrator.  That in itself is a wonderful thing but his illustrations: both in his own books and collaborations with other authors, also tackle the most important issues in society: grief and loss, inequality and difference, childhood and old age, loneliness and friendship, health and identity, justice and retribution and, in the depths of some of the darkest tales, hope.

Pop-up Museum of legal objects

But what does any of this have to do with socio-legal studies?  Well the theme of the SLSA conference this year was ‘Visions of Law’ and the plenary had speakers on graphic justice, photography, model making and art and law.  These speakers gave us much to think about.  I also participated this year in the ‘Pop-up Museum of Legal Objects’.

We were asked to choose an object – any object which could have a ‘legal’ aspect, relevant to our research – so long as the object was also publicly available in a museum or similar public place and that it had an online presence.  I chose The Family Guide to National Insurance, 1948, which I have written about here.

Family Guide to National Insurance 1948

 

We were also asked to make a model of our object – the idea being that making the model would help us to think about our research differently, perhaps bring a whole new angle to the research or maybe help us to describe our work in new ways.  My model for the conference was a mock-up of the Family Guide, showing a rather boring ‘official leaflet’.

Model of Family Guide Jackie Gulland

When you opened it up, an owl popped out, fitting I thought for a pop-up museum.

Pop-up owl Jackie Gulland

Making the model helped me to think about the nature of this leaflet, who wrote it, who read it, who drew the pictures and what were the images trying to portray?

Family Guide to National Insurance 1948

The owls under the umbrella appeared to symbolise a vision of an inclusive welfare state: one where everyone is protected, a long way from today’s vision of ‘welfare’ as negative and stigmatising.

Information about this and details of the objects are all available on the legal treasures website.  https://legaltreasure.wordpress.com/collections/pop-up-museum-of-legal-objects-2017/

So where is the connection to Quentin Blake?  I managed to bring one of his images to my talk, an image from his book Three Little Owls In this book, Quentin Blake’s owls also have umbrellas, just like those in the Family Guide.  But the main connection is in the link to creativity. Drawing, making, doing things in three dimensions can all help us to think about legal issues (or any research issues ) in new ways.  I had some great conversations about this and I left the conference buzzing.

If you haven’t done it yet, go and see I Daniel Blake (community showings going in many areas but now also out on DVD), go to the Quentin Blake exhibition (if you can’t get there, go to his website and read all of his books) and then think about what connections you can make between two Blakes and your work.

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Disability Research Network

I’m part of a network of researchers interested in all aspects of disability, based in the University of Edinburgh. Our members’ interests range across many subjects, including social science, music, education, psychology and history. We’re launching our new website at an exciting free event on Wednesday 15th June. Why not join us?

See our new Website here

 

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Challenge Poverty Week

PrintIt’s Challenge Poverty Week.  I’ve contributed a blog post to ‘Let’s discuss Poverty’ a blog site with contributions from writers and academics across Scotland, writing about their research on poverty. There are blogs on women, sanctions, children, students, and one from me on history. Have a look here

Challenge Poverty Week is co-ordinated by the Poverty Alliance. Here’s what they say about Challenge Poverty Week  17-23 October 2015:

“More than 900,000 people in Scotland live in low income households. In a rich country like ours this is unnecessary and unacceptable.

Challenge Poverty Week is an opportunity for you to raise you voice against poverty and show what is being done to tackle poverty across. Organisations large and small supported Challenge Poverty Week last year, and we hope even more get behind it this year. 

The main aims of the week are to:

  • Highlight the reality of poverty and challenge the stereotypes about exist about it;
  • Demonstrate what is being done across Scotland to address poverty
  • Increase public support for more action to combat poverty 

We are encouraging as many groups and individuals to get involved in Challenge Poverty Week by organising activities or taking part in activities organised by others.”

For information on events go to http://povertyalliance.org/challenge_poverty

and on Twitter #CPW15

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