You know when an old idea suddenly comes back into vogue despite the manifest disinterest of the mainstream political parties. When the Guardian columnist John Harris recently wrote an article about basic income, asking, “Should we scrap [social security] benefits and pay everyone £100 a week?”, it was shared on social media by 13,000 people within 24 hours.

But to really understand the idea Harris was discussing, we have to go back about seven decades and peer behind the schemes of the wartime Beveridge Committee, charged with designing the welfare state.

Sir William Beveridge’s famous ...


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