An Indian-born British economist, administrator, and social reformer, William Henry Beveridge (1879–1963) is remembered mainly for two principal accomplishments. The first was his reshaping of British social services during World War II, when he established a system of services that set out to meet social needs rather than papering over cracks in the fabric of society. This led directly to his second great achievement, accomplished during the darkest days of the war. In November 1942, the Beveridge Report on Social Insurance and Allied Services was published by the Inter-Departmental Committee on Social Insurance and Allied Services, of which Beveridge was chairman. The report was a blueprint for a complete and total national network of health and social services that would meet the needs of the British people for hospital-based and community wide medical care, including personal care by family doctors, public health and preventative services organized by local authorities, social support of the elderly and the handicapped, and a children's allowance to ensure adequate food and clothing, all to be financed by a national system of comprehensive social insurance. In the midst of the war, and with a right-wing conservative government in office, nothing was done about Beveridge's recommendations at that time; but with the election of a Labour government after the Germans surrendered in 1945, the political landscape changed.
Most of the recommendations in the Beveridge Report were implemented by 1948, when the British National Health Service (NHS) was established. Although compromises had to be made to the original blueprint, mainly to placate powerful medical lobby groups, the NHS, as originally established, was a good model for comprehensive, state- supported universal health care services. In its first fifty years the NHS evolved and underwent several reorganizations (some reflecting the changing demographics and advances in medical knowledge, others at the whim of political ideologues) but at the end of the twentieth century it remained an impressive monument to Beveridge's original vision.
JOHN M. LAST