The creation of the NHS and the welfare state was an historic gain for the working class, bringing at least some protection from the red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The NHS was the direct result of the Beveridge Report written by the Liberal economist Sir William Beveridge in 1942. This reimagined the role of the state in a postwar nation, setting out to combat the five “great evils” of society: want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness.
“A revolutionary moment in the world’s history is a time for revolutions, not for patching,” wrote Beveridge. To a country ravaged by war – a “bankrupt nation”, in Winston Churchill’s words – it was a bold vision of a better future. For the first time there would be a comprehensive health service provided free at the point of need. complemented by the welfare state.
However, long before Beveridge, self-help societies had inspired the fight for state welfare, built on working-class values of collectivism and universalism. As a result, these same values were embedded within the Beveridge Report, becoming explicitly evident by the time the Welfare State was created after 1945.
The Tredegar Workmen’s Medical Aid Society, where the writer and doctor AJ Cronin had worked and where Aneurin Bevan’s father had been treated for miner’s lung, had been formed in 1890 by a merger of local benevolent societies. It was intended to provide medical benefits and funeral expenses to miners, steelworkers and their families – and later the whole community. Members made weekly financial contributions, which collectively enabled them to employ doctors, a surgeon, and to maintain a hospital.
This would become Bevan’s model as he worked on the National Health Service project. As he would explain to the country in 1948: “All I am doing is extending to the entire population of Britain the benefits we had in Tredegar for a generation or more. We are going to Tredegarise you.”
Aneurin Bevan and the Socialist Ideal – Professor Vernon Bogdanor
The text of speeches and memoranda reproduced here where not otherwise indicated is from Charles Webster’s collection “Aneurin Bevan on the National Health Service” published by the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, Oxford 1991.
Aneurin Bevan: An appreciation of his services to the health of the people. Pamphlet published by the Socialist Medical Association about 1960
Aneurin Bevan – Labour’s lost leader BBC site with recordings
Website of the Aneurin Bevan Society
- NHS debate House of Commons 30 July 1958
- Local Government Management of the Hospitals, 12 March 1954
- In Place of Fear 1952: (Essay on A Free Health Service)
- Resignation speech 23 April 1951
- Cabinet Discussion 9 April 1951
- Bevan’s speech to the Institute of Hospital Administrators 5 May 1950
- Cabinet discussion 3 April 1950
- Bevan’s speech on the introduction of the prescription charge 9 December 1949
- Nye Bevan, Housing and Harold Hill November 1949
- Press Conference 6 October 1949
- Radio broadcast 1949
- Bevan’s speech on the estimates 17 February 1949
- Bevan’s speech to the Executive Councils Association 7 October 1948
- Bevan’s speech to The Society of Medical Officers of Health 16 September 1948
- Bevan’s speech Preston 5 July 1948
- Bevan’s speech “lower than vermin” Manchester 4 July 1948
- Bevan’s speech to the Royal College of Nursing 2 June 1948
- Pioneers of Public Health 7 May 1948
- Bevan’s speech to the House of Commons on the Appointed Day 9 February 1948
- Bevan’s speech at East Glamorgan County Hospital 17 January 1948
- Bevan’s speech to The Society of Medical Officers of Health 20 September 1946
- Bevan’s speech to the Royal College of Nursing 21 June 1946
- Bevan’s speech on the Second reading of the NHS Bill 30 April 1946
- Bevan’s speech to the Institute of Hospital Administrators, 6 April 1946
- Correspondence between Somerville Hastings and Bevan 1946
- Correspondence between Dr David Stark Murry and Bevan, February and March 1946 – from the SHA archives, Hull University
- Cabinet Memorandum Proposals for a National Health Service 13 December 1945
- Cabinet Memorandum The Future of the Hospital Services 5th October 1945
- Bevan’s speech to the Royal Medico-Psychological Association, 5 September 1945
A dramatic presentation of Nye Bevan and the Fight for the NHS
Brief biography of Bevan
Portraits of Bevan in the National Portrait Gallery
Jennie Lee’s papers in the archive of the Open University
- Also Cal Flyn’s article at the Wellcome Collection, The Birth of Britain’s National Health Service