One of the most revered figures for British Liberal is Lord Beveridge, whose famous report laid the foundations for the welfare state as it was initially implemented by the 1945 Labour government. This report laid down the five “giant evils” which afflicted British society at that time, these were squalor, ignorance, want, idleness and disease.
As Lib Dems now contemplate the latest ream of announcements from George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith concerning reform of the welfare state, many of us, and particularly those who may identify with the ‘Beveridge’ Group within the party are concerned that the work of generations of Liberals is in danger of being undone by the Tories under the veil of deficit reduction.
But let’s look again at those five great evils. It’s not the purpose of this particular article to discuss the putative reforms in relation to unemployment benefit, but it is worth remembering that ‘idleness’ is treated as an evil within the welfare state as much as any of the others are.
For this article, the most relevant of Beveridge’s great evils are perhaps ‘want’ and ‘squalor’. It is surely not the contention of any opponent of these reforms that any child who is part of a stable family where the household income is above £44,000, is in ‘want’ of anything which it is the state’s concern to provide, and similarly, a child in such circumstance is unlikely to live in ‘squalor’.
Much has also been made of the different income thresholds for families where only one, or both parents are working. Again there is a temptation to see this as part of some Tory plot to punish stay at home mothers. But again the reason for the different thresholds is very simple and very much within the Liberal tradition.
If both parents are working outside the home, then they will need to pay for childcare, while a family in which just one parent works outside the home will not incur such an expense. The different thresholds are designed to make it easier for people to choose which of these options they prefer, rather than confining people to paid work, or to the home, for economic reasons.
This choice and freedom should provide more economic freedom for women in the future, and that surely is something which is central to the Liberal tradition.