The historian Peter Hennessy asks whether post-Covid Britain needs to set out a new social contract, comparable to the Beveridge report after WWII. In A Duty of Care, he looks back to the foundations of the modern welfare state and the ‘five giants’ against which society had to battle – want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness. He tells Helen Lewis that after the effects of the pandemic, it’s time to be ambitious and try and work together to tackle today’s comparable giants.
In a damning report commissioned by the NHS Race and Health Observatory earlier this month, it was revealed that minority ethnic patients suffered overwhelming inequalities. If a new Beveridge is to be conceived diversity will need to be at its heart, but the anthropologist Farhan Samanani is concerned that increasingly ‘difference’ is being seen as a threat to societal cohesion. He has undertaken field research in the north London area of Kilburn – one of the most diverse in the UK. In How To Live With Each Other he explores the capacity of people to connect across divides and cultivate common ground.
While post-war governments looked to rebuild the country’s infrastructure and create a new welfare state in the aftermath of the trauma of war, the arts and education in Britain were also viewed as vital to the economy and to reuniting the nation. Jane Alison is the curator of the Barbican’s new exhibition, Postwar Modern: New Art in Britain, 1945–1965 (opening on 3rd March). She says that artists at the time – both home grown and refugees – sought to find meaning and purpose in a changed world. And she argues that artists today are asking similar probing questions about what kind of society we want and need.
Producer: Katy Hickman
Image credit: Eva Frankfurther, West Indian Waitresses, c.1955 Ben Uri Collection, presented by the artist’s sister, Beate Planskoy, 2015,© The Estate of Eva Frankfurther, photograph by Justin P (from the exhibition, 'Postwar Modern: New Art in Britain 1945-1965' Barbican Art Gallery, London, UK)