Legal Aid and Charity
No society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means.
Aneurin Bevan 1947.
The Labour government which came to power in 1945 was committed to replace charitable good works in essential public services with state-provided welfare. Aneurin Bevan, who created the National Health Service, was passionately opposed to the patronising reliance upon private charity for the treatment of the sick. Bevan was involved in the formation of the Tredegar Medical Aid Society. This is fully discussed in Michael Foot’s biography of Bevan. The Society has been described as the forerunner of the National Health Service. It involved workers clubbing together and paying small regular sums into a fund for the payment of doctors and hospital services. Foot points out that the Society partly achieved the aim of making the cost of sickness a communal burden, thus lifting the worst shadow which fell across working-class homes.
The creation of the legal aid and advice scheme was part of the same reforms. The scheme is now in tatters. The huge gaps left by the withdrawal of the state from legal help for the poor are, it appears, to be filled by the adoption of conditional fee agreements, private charity, the whim of the rich, benevolent lawyers and detailed regulations issued by insurance companies.