The 5 Giants


The Beveridge Report of 1942 identified ‘five giants on the road to post-war reconstruction’ – Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness.   Tackling these giants was a primary focus of the 1945 government’s social programme and remained important throughout the second half of the 20th century.  So how much progress has in fact been made?  After six decades of social change, these giants may not have been standing still. Have they learned to use new weapons? Perhaps they are more selective in whom they attack? And are there any new giants which future governments will need to direct their attention to?  What would a 21st century Beveridge be proposing?

We begin by looking at the longer-term trends in social progress in Britain, focussing on household income, healthy life-expectancy, unemployment, participation in education, and housing.  These do not always capture exactly what Beveridge would have had in mind, but reasonably reliable data series are available for looking at these particular trends over time.  There continue to be major gaps in the data available for monitoring how the fight against the giants is going…

We find:

  • Very substantial progress has been made in tackling the giants of Want, Disease and Squalor. It is surprisingly difficult to be sure how well the fight against Ignorance has been going, and Idleness remains a threatening giant.
  • Even in the case of Want, Disease and Squalor, the rate at which the giants are retreating may have slowed in the last decade – they have been weakened but not defeated.
  • Although the fight against the giants has been fairly successful overall, the giants may have become increasingly selective in whom they attack.   Inequality around the average has grown in the cases of income and housing, though it has declined in the case of life expectancy.
  • The giants increasingly pick on vulnerable groups such as young people with low qualifications or some ethnic minorities such as people with black Caribbean, Bangladeshi or Pakistani background.
  • Some of the giants may be changing their tactics – Idleness may now be using the weapon of insecurity.
  • New giants may well be rising – pollution, corruption, discrimination and neglect.

Read the report here: CSI 12: The Five Giants

You can read our reflections on The Five Giants and whether they are still the relevant issues of today in our British Academy blogpost.