LibLink: Claire Tyler delivers the William Beveridge Memorial Lecture

Baroness-Claire-Tyler-1Baroness Claire Tyler is our spokesperson for mental health in the Lords, and on Saturday she gave the William Beveridge Memorial Lecture at the Social Liberal Forum conference. The full text has now been published, but we can give you a taster here.

The title of the lecture was ‘Wellbeing – a modern take on Beveridge’ and she began by saying:

I think it is entirely appropriate to be revisiting Beveridge at a conference entitled ‘Rebooting Liberalism’. It’s neither regressive nor intellectually lazy to be looking to the past as we seek to move forward. Far from it – we are fortunate to have an incredibly strong intellectual tradition within the party and in seeking to both clarify and communicate exactly what we stand for, we could do much worse than draw on the ground-breaking work of one of the grandfathers of modern Liberalism.

Focusing on our fundamental values, she thought we are good at expressing out commitment to liberty and community but …

It’s our second value that I think we’ve had more trouble communicating – our commitment to the redistribution of power and yes wealth where’s it’s needed and the realisation of a more equal society. What I will try to articulate today is why these goals are so central to modern liberalism.

My contention is that we need to say clearly that high levels of inequality are at odds with a society in which everyone is free to develop their talents and fulfil their potential.

She then explores the idea that “looking at individual wellbeing provides a new way of approaching the social problems we face today and a framework for developing new solutions” in the context of a contemporary interpretation of Beveridge’s five giant evils ( Want, Idleness, Ignorance, Disease and Squalor).

She cites a quote from Bobby Kennedy “While GDP measures economic activity of every sort it does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials… it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile” and then goes on to say:

And in terms of how we determine our policy priorities, I think that looking through the lens of wellbeing increasingly offers a good starting point. And rather than suggesting a utopian vision where money flows like water to maximise every opportunity to make each one of us just a little bit happier, looking at wellbeing inequalities gives us a hard-nosed, evidence based framework for identifying where government will get most bang for its buck and shows what interventions will make the biggest difference to improving the wellbeing of those on the bottom rungs of the ladder. In the current straightened financial circumstances this is more important than ever.

She then touches on a few areas where this test can be applied – stable and secure employment, the living wage, a culture of fair pay within companies, aligning NI threshold with the personal tax allowance, mental health, disability, adult care, and effective parenting – but you need to read the speech in full to get the full flavour of her proposals.

So to conclude a thread that runs through much of what I have talked about today is that wellbeing is strongly influenced by surrounding social norms. So while strong relationships with family and friends help support wellbeing at an individual level, at the level of communities – and ultimately, at the national level – trust, empathy and cohesion within society are vitally important. When these are available, populations are more resilient to knocks of all kinds.

My sense is that we have paid too little attention to building this vital social fabric for too long and are now paying the price. Disillusion with politics and politicians is at an all-time high, people feel unable to make their voices heard, disempowered and isolated in their communities. Now this is absolutely liberal territory and we need to claim it. We need to say clearly that wellbeing and happiness requires participation, engagement, meaningful relationships and empowerment at all levels – whether that is about determining how your personal care needs are met or standing as a local councillor.


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  • Richard Underhill 7th Jul '15 - 8:46am

    We should recognise that Bobby Kennedy was the person who was best prepared to be President of the USA, having served in the White House as Attorney General, been elected as a Senator in New York and campaigned against the Vietnam war. He should have had better personal protection as a Presidential candidate. Hisd death was a loss to his family and to the world. Hillary Rodham Clinton is also well prepared.

  • Richard Underhill 7th Jul '15 - 9:12pm

    “Time to explain” states that a civil servant called Harold Wilson served under Beveridge and came out bursting with ideas. He later became an MP and a PM.

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