William Beveridge, benefits and compulsion

With welfare reform very much in the news, William Beveridge is often being quoted and used as a yardstick for comparisons.

So I was curious to see what he had recommended about conditions applying to benefits for people who are out of work.

This is what his report said on the matter:

Unemployment benefit will continue at the same rate without means test so long as unemployment lasts, but will normally be subject to a condition of attendance at a work or training centre after a certain period.

In other words, no to cutting unemployment benefit after a certain period to ‘encourage’ people to find work, but yes to ideas such as mandatory training if you want to carry on receiving your benefits.

That sort of political triangulation, as we would now view it, comes up again and again in the report. It helps explain his report’s wide cross-party support in the immediate years after its publication (at least after Winston Churchill decided to support it) and also its long impact through successive decades.

Another example is found slightly later in the report:

The insured persons should not feel that income for idleness, however caused, can come from a bottomless purse. The Government should not feel that by paying doles it can avoid the major responsibility of seeing that unemployment and disease are reduced to a minimum.

That sort of balance is missing from all too much of the current debate. Consider the question of housing benefit and think how rare it is to hear a commentator or politician mention how both the system should not provide people in need with accommodation so expensive that is beyond the reach of those in work but also that the system should not break up local communities and disrupt local schooling by forcing people to move too frequently.


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