Social Security

  • Rodney Lowe


Together with the maintenance of full employment, the provision of social security was the principal objective of both the Beveridge Report and the postwar Labour government. The concept of social security was novel to Britain in the 1940s — having been first formally acknowledged in the 1941 Atlantic Charter — and it means, in essence, the guarantee by government to all its citizens of an income sufficient to ensure an agreed minimum standard of living. In the 1940s, the realisation of this guarantee depended largely on the expansion of various interwar insurance schemes; but, as argued in Chapter 2.1, the nature of these schemes was fundamentally changed by their being extended to the whole population, to cover all risks to an individual’s income and to provide — in theory at least — subsistence-level benefits.


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Further Reading

  1. There are no good, comprehensive studies of postwar social security. The best introductions are the historical chapters in general texts, in contemporary poverty surveys and in later attempts to reform the system. Amongst the first, the best is perhaps P. Alcock, Poverty and State Support (1987). The two outstanding contemporary surveys, from the full list provided in Note 30 of this chapter, are the forbiddingly entitledGoogle Scholar
  2. A. B. Atkinson, Poverty in Britain and the Reform of Social Security (Cambridge 1970) andGoogle Scholar
  3. G. C. Fiegehen et al., Poverty and Progress in Britain, 1953–73 (Cambridge, 1977). The contemporary mood is also well evoked byGoogle Scholar
  4. D. Bull (ed.), Family Poverty (1971) andGoogle Scholar
  5. K. G. Banting, Poverty, Politics and Policy (1979). Of the latter books, the most rewarding areGoogle Scholar
  6. R. Berthoud et al., Poverty and the Development of Anti-Poverty Policy in the United Kingdom (1981) andGoogle Scholar
  7. A. W. Dilnot et al., The Reform of Social Security (Oxford, 1984).Google Scholar
  8. On particular topics, the Beveridge Report is well served by a magisterial biography, J. Harris, William Beveridge (Oxford, 1977) and byGoogle Scholar
  9. K. and J. Williams A Beveridge Reader (1987). There is also a shrewd review of the report’s long-term impact inGoogle Scholar
  10. J. Harris, ‘Enterprise and Welfare States: a comparative perspective’, in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 40 (1990) 175–95. Legislative changes to social insurance are covered exhaustively, in an international context and with a few telling insights, inCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. P. A. Kohler and H. F. Zacher, The Evolution of Social Insurance, 1881–1981 (1982). Means-tested benefit is particularly well covered byGoogle Scholar
  12. A. Deacon and J. Bradshaw, Reserved for the Poor (1983) and the reflections of an erstwhile chairman of the Supplementary Benefits Commission,Google Scholar
  13. D. Donnison, The Politics of Poverty (1982). A comprehensive, if partial, history of postwar pensions is provided byGoogle Scholar
  14. E. Shragge, Pensions Policy in Britain: a socialist analysis (1984), whilstGoogle Scholar
  15. L. Hannah, Inventing Retirement: the development of occupational benefits in Britain (Cambridge, 1986) is one of those few academic books which one wishes were longer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Contemporary poverty surveys are of course valuable in their own right. Particularly stimulating are the very short B. S. Rowntree and G. R. Lavers, Poverty and the Welfare State (1951); the more technicalGoogle Scholar
  17. B. Abel-Smith and P. Townsend, The Poor and the Poorest (1965); the more impressionistic study of Nottingham in 1966–7,Google Scholar
  18. K. Coates and R. Silbourn, Poverty: the Forgotten Englishmen (1970); and the exhaustive 1968–9 survey,Google Scholar
  19. P. Townsend, Poverty in the United Kingdom (Harmondsworth, 1979). Predominant amongst contemporary texts, however, is the Beveridge Report itself (Cmd 6404, 1942). Its length and its close, if sometimes inconsistent, reasoning can be forbidding, but it provides effective summaries of its main proposals (paras 1–40), the insurance principle (272–99), its main principles (303–9) and its three assumptions (410–43). Particular problems are also summarised in relation to women (107–17, 339–48) and both rent and old age (193–264). There is a preemptive strike against its critics (444–61) and there is also an extremely helpful summary of international practice (appendix F).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Rodney Lowe 1993

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  • Rodney Lowe

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