Liam Byrne MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, in a speech to Joseph Chamberlain College in Birmingham today, said:
Can I start by thanking the principal, the teachers, the students of Joseph Chamberlain College for inviting me to speak this morning.
There is no better place than here to begin a series of speeches to mark the 70th anniversary of the Beveridge report.
Your college memorialises a man who did more than anyone in the 19th century to pioneer a tradition of doing things together; a tradition of public enterprise.
In that sense the first foundation for Beveridge can be traced to the man elected 139 years ago with the words, “In 12 months by God’s help the town shall not know itself.”
He set an incredible pace. Water and gas municipalized. The art gallery founded. Corporation Street remodelled. Slums cleared. Public Health championed. The school board formed.
Chamberlain was clear: “The power of life and death shall not be in the hands of the commercial company, but should be conducted by the representatives of the people.”
William Beveridge would have recognised Joseph Chamberlain as a decisive influence.
And I think that we are here today marking the 70th anniversary of his report, tells us that William Beveridge got an awful lot of things right.
All good anniversaries prompt a bit of self-reflection.
This anniversary should be no different.
So I hope that in this year we can begin to debate how we go back to the Beveridge’s first principles and ask ourselves: how is it that we can apply those ideas – and those ideals – to the changed world of the 21st century?
I suppose at the outset, I should declare an interest.
My life was irrevocably shaped by the 1945 administration which took office 25 years before I was born. An administration led by Labour leaders’ to whose tradition I belong.
The practical idealists of Labour’s history; leaders like Bevin, like Morrison, and Attlee.
These were the leaders who fashioned a welfare state into which my parents were born; a welfare state that educated them, that gave my father, the first in his generation, the chance to go to university.
That inspired them with the ethos of public service in which they spent their careers, that helped our city expand.
With the architecture, the schools, the health centres, the libraries, the art, the ideas that re-shaped for the better the constituency it has been my privilege to serve these last eight years.
So, what of the report we celebrate this year?
It’s story, the tale of Beveridge’s famous, eponymous report is rightly, widely known.
The key events took place 70 years ago this year. Beveridge allegedly wept when he was appointed.
He wanted to be in charge of manpower on the Home Front, organising to defeat the Nazis. But Ernest Bevin, his minister was told in no uncertain times by his officials that the man was impossible to work with.
So Bevin recommended him to Arthur Greenwood to lead his enquiry into social insurance
And Beveridge did not take long to seize the moment.
Over the first 9 months of 1942, he took evidence from 127 individuals, pressure-groups and lobbyists
By April, Home Intelligence was reporting Beveridge's idea of an all-in social insurance scheme was popular.
By May, the Labour Party passed a resolution calling for one comprehensive scheme of cash payments for emergencies, family allowances and a NHS.
By July, Beveridge unveiled his five giants to the Engineering Industries Association.
By the summer, he had struck a 'deal' with Keynes to enlist his support, undertaking to keep costs down to £100m for the first 5 years.
Finally, after a little to-ing and fro-ing, from dawn on 1 December 1942, the BBC began broadcasting details of his plan in 22 different languages.
Timing, as they say, is everything in politics – and Beveridge’s timing was perfect.
In November 1942, the Allies had beaten Rommel in the Battle of Egypt, counter-attacked in Stalingrad and secured the Pacific base of Guadalcanal in the a decisive naval battle.
It was not as Churchill said on 10th November 1942, the beginning of the end.
But it was the end of the beginning.
Interest in what it was the country was fighting for hit a new high, and that interest swept the Beveridge Report off the shelves.
It became almost immediately the most popular government publication until the Profumo report.
635,000 copies were sold. 86 per cent said it should be implemented. The Manchester Guardian called it a ‘fine thing’.
And with publication of the plan, came the debate about what next...
Your tradition is not simply about the search for truth; it is for the search for action.
Ideas alone are nice; but ideas with action can change the world.
Crucially, as 1942 gave way to 1943, the Beveridge report was connected with the power-train of action, the mainspring, the animating force; and that was the force of full employment.
Full employment would become the foundation on which the report itself would be delivered, and without which it would have proved a dream.
The Cabinet did not discuss the report until January 1943, when Churchill was away in Casablanca.
Before the Cabinet met, Attlee told newspapers 'social security to us can only mean socialism'.
He minuted Churchill to say planning for Beveridge must begin; ‘I am certain’ he wrote ‘that unless the government is prepared to be as courageous in planning for peace as it has been in carrying on the war, there us extreme danger of disaster when the war ends'. 'Mere preparation of paper schemes' was not enough.
But the Cabinet concluded, there broke an intense debate, about the extent to which a war-fighting government could advance a peace-time plan. The Parliamentary Labour Party was determined to force the question.
In February 1943, the debate in the House of Commons, saw 97 Labour MP’s rebel. In his last vote, David Lloyd George, voted to advance the welfare state he had helped to create.
The following month, Churchill relented.
He gave the green-light for a powerful Reconstruction Committee to be established, with as he put it: 'a solid mass of four socialist politicians of the highest quality and authority'.
It was here, here amongst this group of politicians that the fusion between Beveridge and ideal of full employment began to take shape.
Beveridge himself took close interest in its work.
After his report published, the war cabinet economists had begun to construct Keynesian solution to question of the central question of employment. They presented ideas to the new Reconstruction Committee in January 1944.
It was now, that Ernie Bevin, supported by Hugh Dalton began to drive through the ideas that would become the famous White Paper on Full Employment of 1944.
Bevin became a driving force in Reconstruction Committee. He missed just 6 of its 98 meetings. His interest in the question of full employment was long-standing. It was profoundly shaped by the experience of the 1930s.
From late 1941 and early 1942, Bevin had begun thinking about post-war reconstruction; writing and thinking about wide range of practical proposals.
By the end of September 1942, he had begun to sketch out bones of post-war industrial policy which drew together progress and policy of the war years.
Bevin’s approach was straight-forward.
If unemployment rose over eight per cent, Government had to recognise that a situation of mass unemployment existed. A situation calling for emergency action. A situation demanding the state use other means to provide work and stimulate employment.
In other words, Bevin was beginning to imagine a world in which full employment and social security became two sides of the same coin.
When he spoke to the Scottish TUC in April 1943, Bevin set out how for Labour, the Beveridge Report had to be set within a wider picture of employment, wage standards, housing: 'What we are doing is to bring the whole of this thing together and try to fit it into one blue-print or plan'.
In 1944, the keystone to that plan was finished. Bevin published the famous White Paper on Full Employment which famously declared:
'The government are prepared to accept in future the responsibility for taking action at the earliest stage to arrest a threatened slump'.
Bevin presented the White Paper to Parliament a week after D Day.
He was roundly attacked by his own backbenchers – but he was not knocked off course. By the end of 1944, a white paper and then a bill and then a ministry were created to take forward social insurance.
By 1945, in Labour’s manifesto ‘Let Us Face the Future’, the party declared a policy of ‘Jobs for all’ arguing ‘production must be raised to the highest level’ and to create with the proceeds.
‘Social Insurance against the rainy day’, and a promise to ‘press on rapidly with legislation extending social insurance over the necessary wide field to all’.
‘There is no reason why Britain should not afford such programmes but she will need full employment and the highest possible industrial efficiency in order to do so’.
Finally, at 3.48 in the afternoon on 6th February 1946, the Minister of National Insurance, Jim Griffiths got to his feet to move the National Insurance Bill be read a second time, replete with its first clause: Every person who on or after the appointed day being over school-leaving age and under pensionable age...shall become insured under this act’.
The Beveridge Report was passing into law.
When Jim Griffiths moved the National Insurance Bill, the place he began his speech that afternoon, was with Keir Hardie. The founder of the Labour Party.
The man who 51 years previously had stood ‘a lone figure in that Parliament’ and insisted in the first speech as the first Labour MP, on the principle of work or maintenance. His election address had the demand ‘Work for the Unemployed’ plastered all over it.
‘Useful work for the unemployed’ was the call of the party’s first manifesto
Thirty years later, work was still the heart of Labour’s message.
The Devil’s Decade of the 1930s, the mass unemployment in the industrial regions of Britain, the memory of soldiers and sailors on the dole inspired a new generation of Labour politicians and thinkers – like Jay, Dalton and Durbin - to wrestle back the ideas of Keynes and refashion them into an agenda for full employment.
Generation after generation of Labour leaders campaigned for jobs, organised the unemployed and argued for full employment.
Just think of Red Ellen Wilkinson at the head of the Jarrow Crusade, or Michael Foot leading the People’s March for Jobs fifty years later.
The campaign for work has always been our first priority.
But what is sometimes forgotten is that Labour’s leaders matched the argument for the right to work, with an insistence on the responsibility to work too.
Right at the beginning, in the Webb’s Minority Report on the Poor Law, the Webb’s argued that ‘national government had a duty of so organising the national labour market so as to prevent or minimise unemployment’.
But with the toughest of action on those who refused to work.
That the responsibility of the Government to foster: full employment must be matched by the responsibility of citizens to take a job if they can or lose the support that is financed by our common effort.
The clue is in the name. We are the Labour Party.
The party of workers. The party of work and mutual endeavour.
An idea that is our part of our history, our tradition – and our philosophy.
We are the party that believes that a life of community makes us richer.
But we are the party that has always believed that if we want rights, then we must ask for responsibility too.
We were born with the notion that we become free citizens not simply taking away but by putting something back into civic and political life.
Because we are a party born in working communities, we know that community life does not come from nowhere. It comes from people giving something back.
David Marquand in his majestic book ‘Britain Since 1918’ divides our political history into four camps; the Whig imperialist, the Tory nationalist, the democratic collectivist, the democratic republicans.
It is the democratic republicans argues Marquand, who share much of the ‘collectivists’ concern for equality, but ‘they were for fellowship and dignity more than economic equality. They put their faith in the kinetic energy of ordinary citizens’.
This is the tradition that stretches back to the Levellers in the seventeenth century and the Paineites in the eighteenth. This is the tradition defended by English philosophers like Harrington and Milton.
A tradition that argues that it is free states that bequeath freedoms to citizens. But for a state to remain free – free of dogma or dictatorship – demands citizens cultivate that crucial quality which the English republicans translated as civic virtue or ‘public-spiritedness'.
This was the instinct for a greater degree of ‘self-government’ and self-organisation that produced a rich 19th century tradition of political change that was the crucible for the Labour tradition.
This is the tradition of ethical socialists like Tawney – who rejected any desire to live in a Fabian ‘paralytic paradise’ but argued instead for a country of fellowship.
This was the tradition that argues that if we gain our freedom through membership of a great club called a free state, then it is wrong to see that membership as a ‘free ride’. Membership comes with a fee.
The philosopher Quentin Skinner recently put it like this: 'Unless we place our duties before our rights, we must expect to find our rights themselves undermined'
This is the modern insight of the communitarians like Amatai Etzioni. Its conclusion is simple: we believe in freedom.
But we believe a free society demands not just rights but duties.
A duty to look after each other in dire straits. But a duty too, to do our bit.
Not just to take, but to put back.
Today, the Conservative Party offer us a very different kind of approach.
Back in 1942, I think it is fair to say, with some honourable exceptions like Quentin Hogg; the Conservative Party were not rushing to embrace the Beveridge Report.
A secret committee of MPs came to Churchill to argue for a very different approach.
Their chairman Ralph Assheton accepted children’s allowances and contributory pensions – but wanted privatised health insurance and unemployment insurance substantially below wage rates.
Today, we hear from the Conservative Party, an echo down the years. Today, in the House of Lords, they are doing their best not to renew the Beveridge settlement – but to bury it.
The new Welfare Reform Bill strips away contributory benefits for the sick. Strips away almost all benefits for modest savers. Strips away safeguards against homelessness.
But in truth it is impossible for the Conservative Party to offer meaningful renewal of the welfare state – the welfare state for working people – because they simply do not believe in charting a course for the full employment that it is necessary to pay for it.
Sometimes, I listen to the rhetoric of this Government, and I am reminded of Ronald Reagan and his attack on “welfare queens” 30 years ago.
Reagan never named her but his myth inspired a movement that started with a call to responsibility and ended by ignoring every cry for help. Reagan’s attack on welfare queens ended with the biggest attack on the measures to promote equality in American history.
This Government risks repeating their mistakes – mistakes risk destroying the talent of a generation. Not just for now but for years to come.
Last month, Acevo warned that the young people who are unemployed are far more prone to unemployment in the future, to ill health, to low pay.
In other words, unemployment is a one-off misfortune. It can scar you for life.
The cost of today’s youth unemployment will cost us £28 billion over the next decade. In just ten parts of Britain where the cost totals £5 billion.
It’s not the parts of Britain you would think.
Its place like Kent, like Essex, Hampshire, Lancashire – and yes, here in Birmingham.
You know the cost of youth unemployment for us over the decade to come is £625 million.
That is the equivalent to 15 Joseph Chamberlain colleges.
And areas that get hit, get hit time and time again.
The places with high youth unemployment in 1985 were by and large the same areas hit badly in 1992. And they are the same areas hit hard today:
Birmingham. Glasgow. Essex. Kent. Lancashire.
That is how expensive the Government’s ‘no-jobs plan’ has become.
We might feel more relaxed if we thought they had a plan.
We were promised the biggest Work Programme ever. We were promised Universal Credit would make you better off in work. That was the rhetoric.
Now we know the reality.
The Armed Forces Minister says the funding model for the Work Programme is ‘in serious trouble’.
The long term unemployed are leaving benefits only half as fast as last year.
And now, we know that cuts to tax credits mean that after April, a couple working part-time on the minimum wage will be £760 better off on benefits than in a job.
How can than make sense?
So the Work Programme is not working and you’re better off on benefits.
That is not going to deliver full employment. It won’t deliver a renewed welfare state.
So, this is my argument.
On this 70th anniversary of the Beveridge Report, I believe it is a political duty, to think anew about how the welfare state must change.
Change for new times. Change for new needs.
But I believe that the lesson of the 1940s, is the lesson of Beveridge, of Attlee, of Bevin, of Morrison. That full employment and a strong welfare state are two sides of the same coin.
So, if we want to renew the welfare state for the 21st century, we have to think anew about the path back to full employment, commensurate with a low and stable rate of inflation.
We know the welfare state needs to change. It needs to change because the world has changed.
The job for life has gone. The workforce is highly feminised. We’ve sold off the council houses – but didn’t build enough in their place. Our society is aging. All of these changes mean what working people need from the welfare state is very different from 1942.
But if we want change, change must be paid for. Paid by people who work.
And the lesson of Labour’s history, of our tradition, of our philosophy is that the right to work must run alongside the responsibility to work too. That is why we argue so hard for Labour’s five point plan to kick-start growth and jobs.
Because welfare to work needs work.
But as I say, the right to work must carry with it, a responsibility to work.
The truth is that the Government is actually weakening the obligation to work. It is perfectly possible under the Government’s arrangements to sail through two years of the Work Programme and straight back onto the dole on the other side.
We don’t think that is good enough. We don’t think that if you can work, you should be allowed to live a life on benefits.
So, as we explore new ways to create jobs, we’ll look at new ways to enforce the responsibility to work if you can.
If you can work, you should.
That’s the idea that’s explored by my colleague Stephen Timms in a new pamphlet published by the Smith Institute today. It shows how the idea of job guarantees could not only offer people the chance to work – but the obligation to work if they can.
At a stroke it is an idea that, for those who can work, would end the possibility of a life on benefits. It’s a vital contribution to our policy debate.
If one man made a reality of the Beveridge Report, it was not a civil servant, or a minister, but a Prime Minister. Clement Attlee.
He was a man who learned his socialism in the East End. A place where in his words, he said: ‘I found there was a different social code. Thrift, so dear to the middle classes, was not esteemed so highly as generosity. The Christian virtue of charity was practiced not merely preached’.
He was soon to be alarmed at his first Fabian Society meeting. Seeing a platform full of men with long beards, he whispered to his brother: ‘Have we got to grow a beard to join this show?’
When he was campaigning to become Prime Minister in 1945, Attlee’s appeal was rooted in that community that practiced what it preached.
To a war-battered nation, he said this: ‘We call you to another great adventure which will demand of you the same high qualities as those shown in the war; the adventure of civilisation. An adventure where ‘all may have the duty and the opportunity of rendering service to the nation, everyone in his or her sphere, and that all may help to create and share in an increasing material prosperity free from the fear of want’.
As we mark this 70th anniversary of the Beveridge report, as we mark that milestone in the progress of our country, as we seek to plan out a different kind of future, I think those are fine words to guide us.
And I believe we can start that business, that great adventure here. Here in Birmingham. Where Joseph Chamberlain did so much to show the way.
Thank you for listening.