The ‘Giant Evils’... 75 years on. Plus ca change?

Roman History

My Degree is in 'Modern History' which, at the University I went to, started in 410AD!

That apparently arbitrary date is, of course, that when the Romans left Britain...

Of course!

It equally arbitrarily ended in 1964; a hugely significant year which in addition to witnessing the first broadcasting of Top of the Tops and Match of the Day, the initial publication of Jackie magazine and the Tokyo Olympics was also that of my arrival into the world….

Top of the Pops
Jackie Magazine
Tokyo Olympic Logo


Within the context of the intervening 1284 years, one of the subjects I selected as a Depth Study was British Politics and Society 1884-1914. A key reason for doing so was a fascination with the Liberal Government's welfare reforms from 1906-14, a series of health, education, unemployment and pensions initiatives which arguably laid the foundations of the modern Welfare State. Perhaps the educationalist in me was already forming? I still have a couple of my books to prove it...

History books

Central to those reforms was the work and research of a then but already influential young civil servant, William Beveridge...

William Beveridge

Beveridge of course subsequently went on to become a 'Sir', and a perhaps still somewhat unacknowledged architect of the what so many of us take for granted as the entitlements of the post-war British political Consensus established by Cement Attlee's  government of 1945-51: comprehensive education, universal unemployment and sickness benefit and the NHS.

A genuine visionary.

In 1942 - three quarters of a century ago - he published his report into the five 'Giant Evils' that would need to be addressed in order to build a better post-war Britain: Want, Ignorance, Squalor, Disease and Idleness.

'Ignorance' was that relating to education and the fact that too many children at that time left school at 14 only to enter poorly paid and unskilled employment; an evil to be challenged through comprehensive education for all and, in so many ways, the reform central to ensuring progress on every other ‘giant evil’.

Beveridge died, aged 84, in 1963... a year before Modern History ended. I'd like to think we are still learning his lessons today...