William Beveridge: A Biography

By Jose Harris | Go to book overview

16
THE MAKING OF THE BEVERIDGE REPORT

I

THE Committee on Social Insurance and Allied Services was set up in June 1941 to inquire into the wide range of anomalies that had arisen as a result of the haphazard and piecemeal growth of the social security system over the previous fifty years. In 1941 no less than seven government departments were directly or indirectly concerned with administering cash benefits for different kinds of need. Thus workmen's compensation was supervised by the Home Office, unemployment insurance by the Ministry of Labour, national health insurance by the Ministry of Health and the Department of Health for Scotland. Noncontributory old-age pensions were administered by the Customs and Excise, contributory old-age pensions by the Ministry of Health, and 'supplementary pensions' by the Unemployment Assistance Board -- which also dealt with the long-term unemployed. War victims and their dependants were relieved by the Ministry of Pensions, while the civilian disabled, widows, and orphans were insured by the Ministry of Health. In addition there was a nation-wide network of local authority committees -- the heirs of the old Poor Law guardians -- which paid means-tested public assistance to persons in need. Benefits under these various systems were financed in a number of different ways. Thus, workmen's compensation was paid for by the employer; war pensions, non-contributory old-age pensions, and unemployment assistance by the taxpayer; public assistance by the ratepayer; and health, unemployment, and old-age pensions insurance by tripartite contributions from employers, workers, and the state. Moreover, as Beveridge had discovered as chairman of the Unemployment Insurance Statutory Committee, the benefits payable under the various systems varied widely in size and scope. Thus, a man entitled to workmen's compensation received a benefit proportionate to previous earnings. A man supported by unemployment insurance received a benefit related to subsistence needs, plus an allowance for wife and children. A man out of work through sickness, on the other hand, received no statutory allowance for dependants; and his benefits were deliberately fixed below subsistence in order to encourage voluntary thrift.1

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1
In 1940 the average weekly insurance benefit for a man with a wife and two children was 20s. 6d. for

-365-

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