SIR WILLIAM BEVERIDGE is one of those unassuming Englishmen who would have made an excellent “barker” outside a circus tent. He knows how to attract attention. If you look him up in “Who’s Who” you will find that the long entry begins—
“Beveridge, Sir William Henry, K.C.B., cr. 1919; C.B. 1916; *Das grosse Ehrenzeichen mit dem Stern (Austria).”
You will admit that that is a pretty good beginning, with just that touch of showmanship inseparable from everything he does. We shall skip the record of his scholastic honors and not even attempt to enumerate the endless reports which bear his name. On the other hand let us glance at his published writings:
“Unemployment, a Problem of Industry; John and Irene: an Anthology of Thoughts on Women; Swish (a submarine war game); Changes in Family Life.”
That is enough to convince you that Beveridge is a bit of a card. With all his scholastic background he is at heart a barker but, oddly enough, he was not to achieve his mightiest triumph in that direction until in his sixties he produced his most famous report and got married at the same time.
For weeks both the newspapers and the politicians had been discussing the coming charter for the future. One would have thought that Sir William was drafting the very laws which would govern in the years ahead instead of merely making a vast survey with recommendations. So intense was the speculation that the truce between the Socialists and the Tories, already wearing thin, practically came to an end. The left-wingers accused the Tories of trying to sabotage the report in advance and claimed, as proof, an interview in the ultra-Conservative Daily Telegraph in which Beveridge was alleged to have said that the report would take us “half way to Moscow.”
Sir William indignantly denied this (thus producing more columns of publicity) and the Telegraph was duly castigated. I still do not know why in these pro-Russian days it should be thought a bad thing to go half way to Moscow, but then public controversy is always more heated than logical.
It was in this atmosphere that the mighty report was born. But even then there was an angry sky and flashes of lightning. It appears that the newspapers received copies some hours before the M.P.’s, and the House of Commons wanted to know why. Mr. Eden, as leader of the House, explained that as the report was nearly 100,000 words in length it was necessary for the Press to have it in their hands for a reasonable time in order to make a coherent presentation. Grudgingly the House saw the point but warned the Government to be more careful in the future.
So at last we gazed upon the Charter of Security. The newspapers gave vast space to it, the cartoonists all made a play on Beveridge and beverage, and we discussed it in Parliament.
The question in everyone’s mind was—had Beveridge brought forth a mountain or a mouse?
* “The grand badge of honor with the star.”
That question has not been satisfactorily answered yet.
THE first violent reaction came from the City where there was a fall of many millions in the shares of the great industrial insurance companies. The only wonder is that the fall was not greater since Beveridge proposes that the State shall become practically the sole industrial insurer.
It is difficult for people outside Britain to realize how vast are the ramifications of the big popular insurance companies here. So large is the income of these companies that they are constantly in search of new fields for investment. They have even gone so far as to finance British film production which shows how desperately they need an outlet for their funds.
And one of their biggest sources of income is based on the traditional determination of the British working man to have a good funeral no matter how poorly he may have fared while alive. Thus there came about the “penny-a-week” collector who regularly called to remind the assured that some day he would be the central figure in a fine twenty-pound’funeral.
There was a curious offshoot of this. The Britisher dearly loves a gamble and since he could not gamble on himself he took to insuring his neighbor’s funeral, thus getting rid of another penny a week. While this may indicate a splendid community spirit I am afraid that he usually forgot about his neighbor when the money came to him.
To some extent the whole system of funeral insurance is preposterous. The critics of the insurance companies denounce them because they say that the cost of the funeral is only forty per cent of the money paid in. That does not seem to me to be an important argument. In most manufactured articles there is at least that much difference between production cost and the sale price. There is no particular reason why the sellers of insurance should operate on a lower margin than the sellers of ordinary merchandise.
I don’t want to labor this question of popular insurance but it is the highlight of the report and the basis of the biggest controversy. If one realizes that in 1939 there were 103,000,000 policies of industrial assurance in effect in Britain it will be seen how widespread the system has become. Nor does that total include life policies where the premiums are paid otherwise than on a weekly basis.
But what of the report as a whole? What does it set out to do? How has public opinion taken it?
Boldly and coherently the report enunciates this principle: “Poverty is not, in itself, a spur to
ambition. Poverty degrades the spirit of men. Unemployment is not only a crime it is a blunder. Every man and woman is entitled to a decent degree of security. Once the fear of poverty is removed they will prove to be better and more useful citizens.”
Who can disagree with that? One of my earliest memories in Canada as a boy was wondering why animals were so much better treated than the incoming immigrants. Every care was taken to ensure the welfare of animals because of their Continued on page 31
Continued from page If
market value. Yet the wealth of a country is in the character and condition of its bipeds not its quadrupeds.
Well—that is the spirit of the Eeveridge report and, as such, it has been welcomed by the whole nation. We are determined that when this war is over we shall not see ex-airmen playing grind-organs on the streets, or British merchant sailors slouching from one employment exchange to another while expert committees declare this or that shipyard “redundant.”
The human conscience is aroused. May it stay aroused.
Security at a Sacrifice?
BUT SO far I have only mentioned the spirit of the Beveridge report. When it comes to the practical application we note the lessening of the applause. It is true that there are enthusiasts in every camp who keep on cheering and shouting “author!” but they are isolated individuals and merely accentuate the perfunctory nature of the reception from the rest.
Frankly Beveridge has thrown a bomb at the vested interests. At once the street corner agitator cheers himself hoarse. He has been denouncing vested interests all his life and sees in this a move against the capitalists and all their works. Unfortunately he has failed to realize that Labor has vested interests as well and that the trade unions are the most vested of them all.
The very essence of trade unionism is to bargain for the worker, to exact a regular contribution against evil days, and to determine his rights. Now Beveridge comes along and says: “The State will give the worker security, it will train him if he is unemployed and it will see that his family is looked after.”
As well might you expect the legal profession to cheer at the news that all litigation is to be taken out of their hands. What is more the trade unions see in all this a blow against the dignity of man. If there is to be no unemployment, does this mean then that the State will have power to “direct” any man or woman into such occupations as are available? Then will a worker no longer be able to choose his own calling? And will trade unions be weakened by their members being drawn into other occupations?
Labor and the trade unions have embraced the report with a heartiness that deceives no one. Cautiously they have inserted into their acceptance the well-known proviso that the details “must be carefully examined.” At the same time they show a righteous indignation if the Tories dare to criticize the sacred document.
What about the Communists? As usual they are very noisy. The
Daily Worker has tried to make itself the supreme champion of the report but one can feel the doubts and disappointments behind the clamor. The reason is that Sir William proposes that the worker shall pay an increased contribution in expectation cf favors to come.
This does not fit in at all with the prevailing mood of the extreme Left which might be summed up as: “When this war is over the profits should go to the workers.” Despite the dreadful cost of the war and the certainty that there will be no reparations, the Left extremists persist in the belief that there will be money to divide. They are very sensitive to the suggestion that everyone will have to work harder after the war in order to revitalize our impoverished economic veins. But it is the increased contribution which hurts most.
What is the attitude of the Liberals and the middle classes? The Liberals find themselves wholly in sympathy with the benefits to the body and the soul of the people but, as the standard bearers of individualism, they see the spread of State Control into j our lives from birth until death. And ! how will free trade return if the State needs so much more revenue?
The middle classes look on as mere j spectators. They have always paid ¡ taxes for education but scraped to send their children to private schools. Now they are told that whether they need it or not they will eventually be paid an old-age pension of two pounds a week. Inherently they resent that. It is against their deepest instincts to receive money from the public purse. They are prouder than the rich and less easy to change.
What then of the Conservatives who represent the moneyed and managerial classes as well as the sturdier elements of the workers?
The attitude of the Tories is realistic as always. They say: “The extra contribution required from the employer is a serious thing. It must come out of something. If it is to be a charge on profits then what is to be done if profits are to be curtailed? ! On the other hand if it is to be charged to production costs how will we maintain our place in the export markets of the world?”
Further they point out what they j consider an anomaly. There is to be j no compulsory retiring age for workj ers, on the contrary they are to be i encouraged to stay at their benches j as long as they can do their jobs well. ! This, say the Conservatives, will mean that in good times (which look after themselves) the total pay out of pensions will be low, whereas in bad times men will retire from work and the pay out will be heavy.
Notwithstanding these criticisms there is really solid support for the report from the Tories. In fact The Times has endorsed it with reasoned argument day by day and urges the nation not to fear the future. Wisely it reminds us that the nation’s wealth was greater in 1939 than in 1913 despite the fact that a world war had taken place in the interval.
There remains then the man in the street, the philosopher of the public houses, the fellow who has a vote and not much else. He likes the new vista of things. For one thing he and his missus could have larger families without being ruined. He rejoices at the thought that the cursed means
test will be done away with and that he won’t have to force his children to help support him in his old age. Pie is pleased too that his missus will be looked after in case he dies and that she won’t have prying officials to deal with. He grumbles about his increased contribution of three shillings and ninepence but then he wouldn’t be a Briton if he did not grumble. And he is not quite sure about the funeral being so good.
In Tune With the Times
IT IS not possible in one article to deal with the vast financial ramifications of the proposals. At any rate they will have appeared in your newspapers and have been adequately discussed. My purpose is merely to try to describe the reactions over here to the report and to indicate the cross currents which will confront it when once it begins its voyage.
No one suggests that it will be accepted in its entirety. On the other hand it is so in tune with the spirit of the times that there will be a general demand that it will not be set aside or debated into nothingness.
It has dignity. It has humanity. While it extends the area of State interference it reduces the persecution of petty officialdom. If there is
an extra burden on the employer and the national exchequer it should extend the productivity of the workers and thus increase the nation’s wealth. If it brings financial burdens it eases the historic differences between management and workers. Above all it satisfies the human conscience which rightly looks upon poverty and slums and unemployment as forms of blasphemy.
Wisely it refuses the “something for nothing” school which can be so raucous and so plausible. In short it is a vast, centralized insurance scheme where premiums must normally be paid but where policies will not lapse if the insured cannot meet the payments. It is the natural and, indeed, inevitable climax to the policy introduced so many years ago by Mr. Lloyd George when, to shouts of derision, he brought in social insurance to a country which believed that destitution, like famine and plagues, was a natural law and not to be challenged.
Humanity moves on. Even in this dark hour the leaders of Britain are daring to plan a better life in the years to come. If Sir William Beveridge has not brought forth a mountain it is something bigger than a mouse. A great reporter has come into his own at last.
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