Editorial: Beveridge’s Giants 80 Years On

John Holmwood

November 2022 marks the 80th anniversary of the publication of the Beveridge Report, or Social Insurance and Allied Services, as it was unpromisingly titled. It set out the five ‘Giants’ that confronted public policy – idleness, want, ignorance, squalor and disease – and made proposals for how they might be tackled, most famously arguing the need for a National Health Service. Yet 80 years on and the Giants remain. To be sure, there has been a general rise in living standards, but this has occurred alongside deep-seated inequalities that seem no less entrenched than when Beveridge drafted his report.

Our present moment is not auspicious. The last decade has been witness to the politics of austerity that has put a severe strain on the very social services whose foundations Beveridge sought to build. The disastrous and short-lived budget by Prime Minister Truss and Chancellor Kwarteng has placed further strain on public finances, such that the same month that we celebrate Beveridge’s landmark report, we will witness another budget that will likely make further deep cuts to public spending and exacerbate inequalities and poverty yet further.

Discover Society is pleased to publish five articles marking the anniversary of the Beveridge Report and addressing the five Giants that we have failed to slay. They each represent an introduction to five books published separately by Agenda Publishing, which together constitute A New Beveridge Report. Importantly, the authors of this new Beveridge Report, do not look backward, but seek to find solutions for what might otherwise seem by their longevity to be intractable problems. Indeed, to some degree they argue that while the reforms to social services inaugurated by Beveridge were carried through by a wave of enthusiasm in the immediate post-war period, a flaw was concealed in the heart of the report.

This flaw was the liberal understanding that economic growth and prosperity was the national goal to which the reform of social services was the answer. This facilitated a transition to a neo-liberalism where the ‘burden’ of social services could be represented as an obstacle to growth and prosperity, even where that prosperity was disproportionately enjoyed by those already advantaged. A new basis for public services, our contributors argue, must be found in a central goal of social justice and welfare for all.

John Holmwood is emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Nottingham . He is the author (with Therese O’Toole) of Countering Extremism in British Schools: The Truth about the Birmingham Trojan Horse Affair (Policy Press 2018) and (with Gurminder K. Bhambra) Colonialism and Modern Social Theory (Polity 2021).

Header image credit: Agenda Publishing


Holmwood, John 2022. ‘Editorial: Beveridge’s Giants 80 Years On’ Discover Society: New Series 2 (3): https://doi.org/10.51428/dsoc.2022.03.0001