We built back better after the Second World War. Let’s do the same after our war with the pandemic

The Star

During the Second World War, mid-level British bureaucrat named William Beveridge was instructed to do a study of a “tidying up” of the shambolic social welfare system in the U.K. Beveridge, ambitious and reportedly difficult, quickly built the role into a one-man royal commission — completely without permission.

At the time, the U.K. had seven government departments overlapping on a multitude of often conflicting pension and social benefits policies. Sound familiar? Beveridge took little more than a year to analyze and study the holes in a threadbare safety net. He produced a report that literally changed the face of health and pensions around the world. Working with a series of fellow bureaucrats, they together consulted dozens of experts and citizens and produced a final report to ecstatic reviews. It sold 600,000 copies in weeks.

Beveridge pushed his study boundaries far beyond a tidy-up, recommending the creation of the National Health Service and an entirely new social safety net. His recommendations helped form the basis of our own systems, and many others around the world. It was his vision of rebuilding back better after the war. Its impact took decades to unfold, but the Beveridge Report is still regarded as one of the foundational documents for our social infrastructure in the advanced democracies.

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