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50th Anniversary of the Death of Lord William Beveridge

Archbishop of York, Mr and Mrs David Burn, Bishop of Newcastle, Rt Revd Martin Wharton and Mr and Mrs George Gwilt

Sunday 12th May 2013

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, today preached at a service to give thanks for the life of Lord William Beveridge on the fiftieth anniversary of his death.

 The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, today preached at a service to give thanks for the life of Lord William Beveridge on the fiftieth anniversary of his death.

Lord Beveridge's two surviving step-grandsons, Mr George Gwilt and Mr David Burn, who serves as Lay Chair of Thockrington's Parochial Church Council and as a Churchwarden of the neighbouring church of St Giles, Birtley, were also present.


Dr Sentamu has often referred to the importance of Beveridge’s 1942 report "Social Insurance and Allied Services", which led to the introduction of the welfare state and the National Health Service by the post-war Attlee Government.


The service took place  at the 900-year-old Church of St Aidan, Thockrington, Northumberland, where Beveridge is buried.


The Archbishop's sermon follows in full...


On this first Sunday after Ascension Day, our first lesson from Ephesians 4:7-16, shows how the Risen, Ascended and Glorified Lord has and is bestowing on his Church the Gifts of Grace by the Holy Spirit.  To the Apostle Paul, the ascension of Jesus meant not a Christ-deserted, but a Christ-filled world.


A Christ-filled world in which his followers are called to be his eyes, ears, hands and feet, the Body of Christ, sharing God’s love and compassion with his brothers and sisters – especially the poor, the hungry, the naked, the stranger, the destitute, the sick and the prisoner.


The bounty of the Holy Spirit was the gifting of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers - and the aim of these gifts is to fully equip the Church of Jesus Christ so that its members daily become what they are meant to be: Ambassadors of reconciliation.


Helping its members to grow into Christ-likeness and equipped for service.  The body must be built up.  The work of each member of the body is construction, not destruction.  Their aim is never to make trouble, but always to see that trouble doesn’t rear its head; always to strengthen and never to loosen, the life of the Body of Christ.


The aim of those called by Jesus Christ is that members of the body of Christ should arrive at perfect unity.  Yes - the aim is to ensure that the Church reaches perfect maturity. 


Not that its members are just living decent, respectable lives, however honourable - the aim must be that they are the prefect example of Christian manhood and womanhood.


The aim of the Church is that its members should reach a stature which can be measured by the fulness of Christ.  The aim of the Church is nothing less than to produce men and women who have in them the reflection of Jesus Christ himself.


There has been lot of talk in recent years of the Big Society, but the biggest society ever created was the community of Christ’s body, the Church, begun over 2000 years ago, and carried on by those God has called over the intervening centuries.


During the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale was passing one night down a hospital ward.  She paused to bend over the bed of a sorely wounded soldier. As she looked down, the wounded lad looked up and said “You are Christ to me”.  A saint is someone in whom Christ lives again.


Sir William Beveridge was a man who had heard God’s challenge to him as a young man, and who responded to it wholeheartedly because he had been given the gifts of compassion, wisdom and courage.


Let me quote from a former Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, who said about him.

 “This is the first time anybody had set out to embody the whole spirit of the Christian ethic in an Act of Parliament”.


He spoke these words, in 1942 in response to the publication of the Beveridge Report in December 1942.  Archbishop Temple could see in this report a vision for the Big Society expounded by Lord Beveridge. This was the culmination of many years of experience and reflection, care and concern about the society and communities amongst whom they lived and worked.


How had this all begun? Forty years before, three young men first met at Balliol College, Oxford. Between them, they were to develop and realise a major vision for Britain. They were William Temple, son of Frederick Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, Richard Tawney and William Beveridge.


One man in particular, had a major influence over the whole Balliol student community at that time.  He was the Master of the College, the eminent Scottish philosopher Edward Caird. Deeply influenced by the poverty he had witnessed in his native Glasgow, he had campaigned for social reform. 


At Balliol he encouraged his undergraduates to become involved with the university settlements in the East End of London in Bethnal Green, Whitechapel and Bermondsey, in South London.


Whilst at Oxford the three young men were challenged to go to the East End of London to ‘find friends among the poor, as well as finding out what poverty is and what can be done about it.’  In the East End their consciences were pricked by poverty: visible, audible, and smellable.


The experience in the East End of London had a lasting impact of opening their eyes to the often grim realities of life for many of their fellow citizens.  All three went on to seek radical reform – each in their own way were to build a new vision for Britain..


William Temple was increasingly troubled by the poverty and deprivation he had witnessed as Bishop of Manchester and latterly as Archbishop of York and then of Canterbury.  In his seminal work Christianity and the Social Order (1942), he called on the government to set themselves six objectives to address the crisis. 


These were (1) proper housing for children, (2) decent education, (3) a proper income for workers and the unemployed, (4) opportunities for workers to have a voice in the running of their firms, (5) adequate leisure and (6) liberty.


Many of the reforms which William Temple had called for were realized in Beveridge’s Report. And their subsequent implementation by the newly elected Clement Atlee Government, led to the creation of the Welfare State. Beveridge called his system, ‘social insurance’.


He didn’t like the term ‘Welfare State’ – which had been coined by Archbishop William Temple. For him, there must always be something for something, and not something for nothing


The three guiding principles of the recommendations in the Beveridge report set out his vision for a society which would provide a secure environment where people could flourish. He stated that:


‘The first principle is that any proposals for the future, while they should use to the full the experience gathered in the past, should not be restricted by consideration of sectional interests established in the obtaining of that experience.  Now, when the war is abolishing landmarks of every kind, is the opportunity for using experience in a clear field. A revolutionary moment in the world’s history is a time for revolutions, not for patching.


‘The second principle is that organisation of social insurance should be treated as one part only of a comprehensive policy of social progress. Social insurance fully developed may provide income security; it is an attack upon Want. But Want is one only of five giants on the road of reconstruction and in some ways the easiest to attack. The others are Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness.


‘The third principle is that social security must be achieved by co-operation between the State and the individual. The State should offer security for service and contribution. The State in organising security should not stifle incentive, opportunity, responsibility; in establishing a national minimum, it should leave room and encouragement for voluntary action by each individual to provide more than that minimum for himself and his family.’


(from Sir William Beveridge’s Report ‘Social Insurance and Allied Services’, November 1942)


The range of Acts including the Family Allowances Act 1945, the National Insurance Act 1946 and the National Health Service Act 1946, addressed the five giants of deprivation: Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness.


It’s hard for us today to take in the full impact of these Acts.  For the Beveridge reforms transformed the lives of millions.  They virtually became a touchstone of what Britain was about.  For the first time, everyone was entitled to a reasonable income if they were unemployed, a proper pension, paid holidays and above all, free healthcare. If you became sick, the state would care for you. There are many countries in the world that still do not enjoy these entitlements today.


The reforms which Tawney, Temple and Beveridge achieved in the 1940s represented the apogee of a shared ‘big vision’ for Britain in the last century. Intellectuals, church leaders and government agreed both on the big vision and on the ways in which it could be delivered.


It is a tragedy that we have increasingly lost this big vision. 

There was no inherent flaw in the vision. In fact I believe that Beveridge succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.  Britain achieved a National Health Service which became a model for Europe and the rest of the world. Moreover, the United Kingdom has provided income and support to those who are sick, unemployed or incapacitated in many other ways. 


And we have developed an educational system which provided a free and full education for all. My hunch is that William Beveridge, having fought the giant of Ignorance, would be shocked by the recent introduction of University Tuition Fees – though perhaps he might have been persuaded with means-testing of living allowances. “Something for something”.


So what has gone wrong?  How have we lost the big vision? Well, life has become increasingly complicated, and our expectations have grown along with our comfort.


But, more significantly, there is a spiritual cause for our loss of vision.  We have become more self-absorbed and introspective.

A society which turns in on itself cannot embrace the kind of wide and generous vision which Lord Beveridge conceived.


So how do we regain a big vision such as that which Beveridge, Tawney and Temple developed so successfully?

For it is essential that we have a big vision for ‘without a vision, the people perish’ (Proverbs 29:18).


In his Christianity and the Social Order, William Temple identified three core social principles, principles which were to inspire the reforms he called for and which were largely realised in the Beveridge Report. 

They were:


First, Freedom:  but a freedom for as well as freedom from.  In other words, people are called to contribute as well as receive liberty.


Second, Social fellowship: we are social beings and belong in community. The family and local community are of paramount importance. 


Third, Service: we should continually ask ourselves, ‘where can I give my best service?’


Any big vision must recognise both the primacy of the individual and the fact that we belong together in community. And, as a Christian, I believe that to have a future, our vision must have a religious and an ethical undergirding, as Lord Beveridge’s did.


As a Christian, I believe that we are made by God, in his image and likeness. Each person therefore is important and sacred. What is more, each person needs the other. 


St Paul described this in his famous analogy, when he compared the community to the human body. 


He wrote, ‘If there were a single member, where would the body be? 

As it is, there are many members, yet one body.  The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you”. On the contrary, the members of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable”. (I Cor. 12: 20-22).


Lord Beveridge understood the principle that each person matters and that we need each other for our society and communities to flourish. We do this by focusing our concern not so much on how we help ourselves but how we can help others.


The Fraternity of the Church, the body of Christ, is not exclusive – it is a model for living together in our local communities.  It is not about choosing who we care to live with but about saying, “how can I learn to live alongside and contribute to our common life in this community?”


And, as we heard in our reading from Isaiah 44, we don’t have to rely on our own strength, for God has chosen us, and we need fear nothing. He is our Rock and he will pour out his gifts upon us.  He says, “I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring”


Let us remember with grateful hearts the willingness of William Beveridge to use God’s gifts and to share God’s love and compassion with his brothers and sisters in this country so that we may all share in God’s blessing.


The Beveridge Report had a vision of full employment, child-wellbeing, free education for all, and income equality. Today, unemployment, income inequality, and the persistence of child poverty, are a stain on our country’s conscience.  Shockingly, it has recently been reported that the majority of poor children are living in working households and child poverty is set to rise.


May we all rise to the challenge. May we always remember William Beveridge and his social insurance reforms.  For a society that forgets its memory becomes senile.

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