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The Beveridge Report

Return to London #50

 

In December 1942, the British Government published the report on Social Insurance and Allied Services. This watershed publication was better known as the Beveridge Report – named after its author, the journalist, academic and Government advisor, William Beveridge and would shape British Government Social Policy for the rest of the century.

 

The report directed government towards the goals of fighting the five ‘giant evils’ of want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness. In return for a weekly contribution, the British people would be guaranteed a minimum standard of living in times of sickness, unemployment or retirement.

 

This significant report was initiated by the coalition wartime Government in 1941 in order to fully plan was the new post-war world whenever that came along. The Government’s intention towards post war reconstruction was first announced at the weekly luncheon meeting of the Rotary Club of London in 1940.

 

Coalition Government minister Ernest Bevin (a future Foreign Secretary in the 1945 Labour Government) addressed the Rotary Club of London in the Connaught Rooms. Rotary historian David Shelley Nicholl tells us that Bevin was clearly impressed by the service principles of Rotary and the work it carried out in the community.

 

Bevin’s audience included many who had fled the Nazi takeover of Europe. He addressed himself to the causes of War and blamed “the failure to provide an economic basis for the development of resources with a view to securing for humanity a new start.”

 

Bevin borrowed from Arthur Sheldon’s famous motto by declaring “If profit can be the only motive, the natural corollary is economic disorder, and economic disorder will bring you back to the same position you are in now, ever recurring, and future generations will again pay, in the same form or another, the bitter price we are paying now…In Rotary, you accept service as the mainspring of your whole organization and being; and does not service give the greatest satisfaction in life?”

 

Why make this landmark announcement to a Rotary Club? Perhaps it was the pure internationality of the movement, or the general Rotary ethos. But whatever the reason, the perception of Rotary (to both Rotarians and the outside world) would from this point on change. Coverage was given to the speech by the British press. The Daily Herald declared that “The significance of [Bevin’s] utterance lay in the warmth of its reception.” This Labour-supporting newspaper could not get over the warm welcome London Rotarians (who, after all, represented businessmen) gave to these radical proposals. The newspaper journalist, Hannen Swaffer would entitle his piece “Rotary Applauds a New World”.

 

It is highly significant that Bevin’s speech was made just around the corner from the Kingsway Hall where thirteen years before, another socialist named George Bernard Shaw had delivered his bilious reference to Rotary ‘going to lunch’.

 

Rotary would itself play an important role in post-war reconstruction. The Rotary Clubs of London published a report of its own on that exact subject recommending amongst other things, a State medical service and nationalisation of all banks and public utilities including transport. How the times have changed!

 

Calum Thomson
 

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