Turning the tide on poverty, 80 years on from Beveridge


August is often known as the ‘silly season,’ and it is a very peculiar August where around 100,000 members of the Conservative party will be deciding on our next Prime Minister over the next few weeks.

Few would have predicted back in 1911, or in July 1948 when the NHS first opened its doors, that in 2022 people, including some of our neighbours here in Torbay, would still face destitution.

Turning the tide on poverty is one of the core objectives of the current administration of Torbay Council, and while the challenge was big when the Liberal Democrats and Independents agreed to work together in 2019, it is even bigger today.

We have had some successes with children in care, the most vulnerable within our society, and despite losing over half a billion pounds in external grant funding over the past decade we have managed to find or bid for resources to help those most in need.

Eighty years ago, the government commissioned a report to provide a blueprint for social policy in post-war Britain. William Beveridge, an economist and Liberal MP, published his report, ‘Social Insurance and Allied Services' in November 1942.

Beveridge saw that philanthropy and the basic welfare provisions of 1911, when the Liberal government introduced the state pension, unemployment and sickness benefits, were simply not sufficient in the circumstances.
His proposals sought to challenge what he termed the five  giants; disease, ignorance, squalor, idleness, and want. His 'cradle to the grave' social programme called for a free at the point of use national health service, and other benefits funded through national insurance. Clement Attlee's Labour Government, elected in 1945, implemented nearly all the proposals.

So how come we find ourselves with all of these giants, to varying degrees, still present in our society?

It’s a rhetorical question, but clearly major inroads have been made in relation to health outcomes as infant mortality rates and life expectancy figures show, yet we are in the middle of a sickness pandemic.

Educational attainment has improved, yet ignorance is played upon by influencers in the media, politics, and advertising.

There have been many changes to building regulations and housing law and attempts to encourage home ownership, yet far too many rented properties leave people inappropriately housed and some of our neighbours still live in squalor through no fault of their own.

Idleness was defined by Beveridge as “wasted human capacity” and required new jobs or the eradication of “restrictive” working practices to reduce it, yet there are people who cannot obtain the welfare, training and mentoring support they need to become more economically active.

The definition of ‘want’ in Beveridge terms is the same as for poverty today - when a person’s resources are not sufficient to meet their minimum needs. But an old word is emerging again, used back in 1911 and in 1942 to prompt government action.

That word is destitution - a term defined today by the poverty campaigning Joseph Rowntree Trust to describe someone facing two or more of the following in a month: sleeping rough, having one or no meals a day for two or more days, being unable to heat or to light their home for five or more days, going without weather-appropriate clothes or without basic toiletries.

If we wish to turn the tide on poverty, something which blights the lives of so many and holds back individuals from reaching their true potential, as well as impeding the success of the local and national economy we all rely upon, then greater efforts are needed at all levels to tackle its underlying causes.    

It is a great pity that this summer minds within the national ruling Conservative party are more fixated on who can beat Labour at the next general election rather than wishing to slay any of Beveridge’s giants.


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