What would Beveridge do?

28th April 2020 about a 4 minute read

The scale of the coronavirus crisis, the enormity of the task of rebuilding our lives in its wake and the upending of politics-as-usual has prompted commentators to call for a new deal between the state and its citizens.

In an interview on Radio 4 this weekend, for example, constitutional historian and cross-bench peer Lord Hennessy recalled the consensus built around Sir William Beveridge’s report which was published during World War II and led to the founding of our modern welfare state. Hennessy thinks that our shared experience of the pandemic right now might produce a “hard-edged consensus” once again. This consensus, says Hennessy, is “there for the taking”, but it needs to be translated into practical politics.

Beveridge’s blueprint

Beveridge’s report, published in 1942, sold 600,000 copies and recommended that the government find ways to fight the five “Giant Evils” of “Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness”. Beveridge believed that deprivation needed to be tackled by addressing these evils together, in combination with full employment. The solution Beveridge outlined included the establishment of a National Health Service and the creation of a national benefits system which would protect the population from “cradle to grave”.

In the 75 years since then, Beveridge’s welfare model has been reformed and its component parts, such as the NHS, have undergone frequent reorganisations. At the same time, our needs as a society have evolved and our expectations of the state, of each other and of ourselves have changed. The national consensus on which our welfare state was built has become increasingly fragile and fraught, particularly in recent years. Has the pandemic reversed this growing polarisation?

Our welfare system and Covid-19

The understaffing of the NHS and its less celebrated twin sister — social care — has drawn public attention during the pandemic as never before. Every Thursday night, neighbourhoods clap in unison for NHS workers and other keyworkers, including the under-paid, over-stretched staff who keep our residential care homes going and enable so many elderly and disabled people to live as independently as possible in their own homes. The tragic death toll in care homes has highlighted how precarious the residential care system is, something which FCC brought to light in its Data That Cares research. While not yet parity of esteem, there is growing consensus that both health and social care are deserving of recognition and support.

Meanwhile, the difficulties that are part of the benefits system (such as the five-week wait to receive the first payment) have been experienced first hand by record numbers of people as they apply for Universal Credit. The resurgence of community spirit and collaborative efforts to deliver local services suggests new possibilities too.

FCC’s Care Labs

Our charity began life as the National Nursery Examination Board (NNEB) in 1945, the year Clement Attlee’s Government adopted Beveridge’s recommendation as a blueprint for the modern welfare state. When we were re-launched in 2017 as Future Care Capital, our trustees’ vision was for an organisation which would shape new thinking in health and social care, spark debate and invest in innovation.

Central to this vision is our work on Care Labs which we’ll be launching this summer. FCC’s Care Labs programme will bring together communities to build change from the ground up and explore collaboration between engaged citizens, policymakers and practitioners. This autumn we’ll be testing Care Labs with communities – we’re looking to hold online events with communities in Devon and Teesside. We’ll also be hosting discussions via social media and co-producing creative tools for local collaboration.

Our Care Labs idea pre-dates the arrival of Covid19. But if the virus has taught us anything, it is that we need to approach the design and delivery of health and care as a shared endeavour, for the benefit of all.

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