Ever since 1942, when Sir William Beveridge first identified the "five evils" haunting Britain - want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness - and proposed that the government do something to combat each of them, the welfare state has been the most important, most controversial, most politicized, most expensive and most loved element in British public life. Even those who seek to dismantle it agree that it represents the British state's finest single achievement. It proves what can be done when the best intentions are allied with a strong political will and, of course, the cash of ordinary Britons. Beveridge was originally only supposed to sort out the web of insurance services stifling Britain. This book recounts how his original vision and campaign blossomed enormously to inspire a country at war with the hope that the peace might bring comfort and security for all. The tale thereafter hums with the energies and passions of activists, dreamers and ordinary Britons, and seethes with personal vendettas, forced compromises, arguments about money, awkward contradictions, noisy rows and fervent perseverance. The author, who has seen the welfare state work every day for the last two decades, assesses the key personalities, the key problems, the key victories and key defeats in this anecdotal study of the welfare state, from the 1940s to the present day.
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