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'A Time for Revolutions'

Social Security from ‘Cradle to Grave’

Britain’s welfare state is often spoken of as a triumph of peacetime, however, Beveridge's plan for it was drawn while the world was at war. Politicians were united on the need to change the system of social care but divided on how to make it work and how much of the Beveridge Report to put into practice.

In February 1943 as a result a further committee was formed to look in detail at implementing the recommendations of the report (the Sheepshanks Committee) in April.

Beveridge and the Voluntary Society Poster, 1945
Beveridge and the Voluntary Society Poster, 1945

The Conservative Party supported aspects of the report. Churchill, the leader of the Conservative Party, coined the phrase 'from the Cradle to the Grave' in a radio broadcast in March 1943 to describe the need for some form of social insurance to give security to every class of citizen in the state. However, Churchill was against too much state intervention and supported ‘freedom of choice’ in healthcare.

The Liberal Party supported the Beveridge Report, including the inclusion of voluntary groups and charities in providing social security.

The Labour Party agreed with the main recommendations of the Beveridge Report but thought the State should provide full benefits and free healthcare for all and exclude voluntary societies.

The 1945 General Election

After World War Two, a general election was immediately called as the wartime coalition government of the major parties (Labour, Conservative and National Government) split apart. The General Election took place on 5 July 1945. The results were not all counted until 26 July due to the need to collect votes from the enormous number of men and women in the armed services, which were stationed across the world.

Labour Party Campaign Leaflet, General Election 1945
Labour Party Campaign Leaflet, 1945

At the centre of the Labour Party Manifesto for the 1945 election is the implementation of the report’s recommendations around national insurance and health. Key Labour politicians had also run some of the most relevant domestic departments during the war, such as Ernest Bevin Minister of Labour and National Service.

Labour Victory

The 1945 election led to a Labour Party victory and they had over 100 MPs more than any other party. The new Labour government introduced the steps for the National Health Service (NHS) and the implementation of other areas identified within the Beveridge Report, such as national insurance.

Labour Party Campaign Leaflet, General Election, 1945
Labour Party Campaign Leaflet, 1945

The inclusion or use of voluntary and ‘friendly societies’ was not included in practical enactment of report by the Labour Government. All functions were controlled by the State.

The three decades following 1945 are known as a time of post-War consensus: an agreement by the main political parties that the Beveridge welfare state and a mixed economy would best keep inequality in check and stop poverty.

The National Health Service

Even before the election, parts of the Beveridge Report were being put into place by the coalition wartime government. The Labour Government introduced the laws and infrastructure needed for social security and the National Health Service (NHS):

  • 1944 Education Act (wartime coalition)
  • 1945 Family Allowances Act
  • 1946 National Insurance Act and National Health Services Act
  • 1946 USA 50 year loan to UK of $3.75 Billion
  • 5 July 1948 National Health Service established



National Insurance - a universal (i.e. everyone pays the same amount of their salary) system of social insurance paid by the state with contributions made by employers and employees from their pay.

Welfare State - describes a system of state support funded by contributions from people and businesses. This system is sometimes called social security.

‘Cradle to grave’ - from birth to death.