William Beveridge: A Biography

By Jose Harris | Go to book overview

14
SOCIAL WELFARE BETWEEN THE WARS

I

IN view of Beveridge's conversion to free-market economics in the 1920s, and his profound scepticism of interventionist liberalism in the 1930s it was not perhaps surprising that for most of the inter-war years he was much less concerned than he had previously been with questions of social policy. He refused many invitations to take part in social policy inquiries, and regarded his involvement with social welfare as a thing of the past.1 He recognized a need, however, for a certain basic minimum of welfare, partly on humanitarian grounds and partly in order to preserve economic efficiency.2 This mixture of social and economic goals can clearly be seen in three important areas of policy in which he did become involved -- the Royal Commission on the Coal Industry, the movement for 'family endowment', and the development and refinement of the system of social insurance.


II

The Royal Commission on the Coal Industry was set up in 1925 under the chairmanship of Sir Herbert Samuel, the former Liberal Home Secretary. Its other members were Beveridge himself, the soldier and banker Sir Herbert Lawrence, and a Lancashire cotton manufacturer, Mr Kenneth Lee. The Commission was assisted by a panel of experts, and all its meetings were attended by representatives of the mine-owners and of the main mining trade union, the Miners' Federation. It was the second inquiry of its kind in six years, a previous commission under Lord Sankey having recommended that coal mines should be taken over by the state. The immediate cause of the appointment of a new commission was the decline of the coal-exporting trade since 1924. The industry had been saved from total collapse by a temporary government subsidy, but employers were also demanding a reduction in miners' wages and a longer working day. The Commission was faced with

____________________
1
BP, Ic 50, MS notes for WHB's diary, 6 Aug. 1933.
2
Passfield Papers, B. Webb's diary, 23 Feb. 1932.

-324-

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