Why has social reform come about?
The coalition Government crumbled in 1945 as a result of the landslide general election and Labour came to power on the promise of implementing the Beveridge Plan. The Beveridge Plan was essential for public morale after the war. British people needed to have something to look forward to and greatly received the Beveridge plan. The leading writers of all the newspapers accepted it and The Times called it ‘a momentous document’ whose central proposals must surely be accepted as the basis of Government action (Timmins, N. 2001 p43.
) Beveridge was fortunate in the timing of his inquiry, his plan would be virtually fool proof after the horrendous conditions of the Second World War (Brown, J. 1995. ) A national welfare system began to develop to give the people of Britain hope. Talks had already started during the war to reform the hospital services, which in turn meant that changes of the entire system of public and private health care had become avoidable. Post-war employment was extremely high on the agenda and eventually led to the 1944 White Paper, a debate on the need for family allowance was to follow.
Beveridge’s ability to see his plan as a whole was what made his report so unique and gave it claims to greatness. The 1909 Majority and Minority Poor Law Reports were the only similar precedents that held such power and even they did not quite measure up (Brown. J, 1995. ) Beveridge defined five areas, which he called the Five Giant Evils, as the cause of poverty. Beveridge claimed that if theses evils were tackled, then poverty would be eradicated from society. His list of evils consisted of want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness.
Beveridge began to implement antidotes for his Five Giant Evils over the period of the late 1940s. Beveridge introduced the national insurance scheme as a way of combating the evil he labelled want. The national insurance scheme was the foundation to the rest of his plan as it would pay for old age pensions, family allowance, national assistance, supplementary benefits, income support and unemployment benefit. Beveridge claimed that ‘want’ could have been abolished before the war and that it was a needless scandal due to not taking the trouble to prevent it (Brown, J.
1995. ) If every working person paid a national insurance contribution, then this would care for the needs of the less fortunate in society; or so Beveridge believed. This would not work if unemployment reached the heights of before the war. His schemes were implemented, but it is important to remember that none of these were new ideas. Provisions had been in place for the poor for a long time and although this was a national welfare system it still singled out the poor and benefited the middle classes more.
Family allowance and the NHS were available to the poor, however it was the middle classes who benefited the most, they earn more, therefore they got more and middle classes were far more likely to use the NHS or more importantly could pay for private health care, so received preferential treatment regardless, usually as a direct result of a better education. Education is the most political of all subjects, for it is firmly about the future. It defines the sort of society people want to see (Timmins, N. 2001. P63.)
Before the war, secondary education was only available in fee-paying private (upper class) or grammar (middle class) schools, with most leaving school at 14 to enter the world of work. The 1944 Butler Education Act was part of the post-war reforms. The birth of the tripartite system was a direct result of this. The system consisted of three types of schools; grammar schools for the most academic children, technical schools for the not quite as bright, but who had the ability to learn skills and secondary modern for the rest of society which boasted no nationally recognised qualifications.
Very few technical schools were built and therefore left a great divide in society. Between 70-75% of children went to secondary modern. Was this therefore saying that 70-75% of children were a failure? This form of education certainly supports the idea that welfare preserves the inequalities in our society, although some may argue that the most academic of children, should not suffer or be distracted by the less bright. The post-war ‘creaming off’ system drove a gaping wedge in society, especially amongst the children themselves who frequently carry the clichi?? “the future”.
When unemployment reached three million again in 1975, the welfare state could be held solely responsible for the fact that there was no revolution. The welfare state made people feel valued to a degree, after a long period of depression, recession and war. As time progressed things began to change again. Thatcher and Reagan’s anti collectivist view of the 1970s supported the idea of individuals taking care of themselves and not relying on the welfare state. Labour eradicated the tripartite system and Britain went comprehensive. Beveridge’s ideas were still in place, however the flaws began to show after its honeymoon period.
The provisions for the poor simply couldn’t shake the stigma and it became very apparent that it was in fact the middle classes who were benefiting the most from these schemes, therefore continuing to single out the poor and pushing them further down society’s ladder, making social mobility ever more difficult. Thus we can conclude that social reform, despite having been around for centuries is a very debatable topic. The evidence suggests that although the Government has implemented strategies to combat poverty, these do not come without a price and rarely care for the needy.
Many of the provisions laid out for the poor over the centuries have certainly discouraged the sponger by making poor relief so basic or in the case of the workhouse; so horrific, that only the absolutely destitute would even entertain the idea of succumbing to this relief. However, these schemes have provided little care, instead they have made the gap between rich and poor greater. The post-war reforms gave hope to a nation in great need, however when one looks beneath the surface, there are many implications for the poor in society.
The reforms of the 1940’s and even to date, boast a stigma that is almost impossible to shake, thus preserving inequalities within our society and encouraging a begging culture of the working classes, closely followed by the blame culture of the upper and middle classes. Perhaps it is type to erase these ideas from our society and embark on a major rethink.
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