William Beveridge: A Biography

By Jose Harris | Go to book overview

8
SOCIAL REFORM AND THE STATE The Labour-Market and National Insurance

I

THE Board of Trade, when Beveridge took up his new post in 1908, was one of the most dynamic and expansionist of Whitehall departments, more closely involved than any other ministry in the 'new Liberal' and 'progressive' reforms of the Edwardian era. Its traditional role was 'the provision of information and advice on matters of trade and commerce', but during the previous twenty years its functions had exploded in many directions -- into statistical and social investigation, labour relations, and industrial arbitration. Under the presidency of Lloyd George between 1905 and 1908 the Board had promoted a major programme of legislative reforms, dealing with company law, merchant shipping control, and nationalization of the Port of London. In 1908-9 it was the Board of Trade that took the initiative in introducing 'anti-sweating' and minimum-wage legislation for low-paid workers -- not the Home Office, which was the department traditionally concerned with welfare in factories and workshops. Since the 1890s the Board had commissioned periodic inquiries into unemployment problems. So it was no coincidence that for several years past it had been the Board of Trade rather than the Home Office or Local Government Board on which Beveridge had been pinning his hopes of more radical state intervention.

Beveridge joined the Board as an unestablished civil servant on the staff of the Comptroller-General of the Commercial, Labour, and Statistical Department. His salary of £600 a year was considerably more than that paid to other non-permanent 'experts' and was a reflection of the Board's anxiety to acquire his services. 'The appointment is a tremendous tribute to Will's peculiar genius, ' commented his friend, Andrewes Uthwatt. 'I feel sure that he is the last person to suffer extinction by becoming part of a machine.'1 Another friend, Helen Denman, confided to Annette Beveridge that she had 'heard this little bit of gossip about Will . . . that when he got his Board of Trade appointment he went about in the greatest delight because, he said, "now I can write blue-books"!! I think it is very nice and characteristic but

____________________
1
AHBP, MSS Eur. C. 176/200, A. A. Uthwatt to ASB, n.d. ( 1908).

-168-

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