Aneurin Bevan (1897-1960)

Minister of Health

Aneurin [Nye] Bevin was born on 15 November 1897 in Tredegar, Wales. He was the sixth of ten children of David and Phoebe Bevan. His father was a miner. Two of Bevan’s five brothers died during infancy, as did an older brother and a younger sister. His family was typical of a poor working class family and his first-hand experiences of poverty and disease shaped his later beliefs.

In 1911, Bevan left school at 13 years of age and began to work in a local coal mine. He became a trade union activist and won a scholarship to study in London. It was during this period that he became convinced by the ideas of socialism. During the 1926 General Strike, Bevan emerged as one of the leaders of the South Wales miners. In 1929, Bevan was elected as the Labour MP for Ebbw Vale. In 1934 he married another Labour MP, Jennie Lee.

During the Second World War, Bevan was one of the leaders of the left in the House of Commons. After the landslide Labour victory in the 1945 general election, Bevan was appointed minister of health, responsible for establishing the National Health Service. On 5 July 1948, the government took over responsibility for all medical services and there was free diagnosis and treatment for all.

In 1951, Bevan was moved to become minister of labour. Shortly afterwards he resigned from the government in protest at the introduction of prescription charges for dental care and spectacles. Bevan led the left wing of the Labour Party, known as the 'Bevanites', for the next five years. Some of his frustration, early and late, was with what he consistently regarded as an insufficiently radical Labour Party. However, at no time, despite his close personal and even philosophical links, did he consider joining the Communist Party which, though strongly supported in parts of south Wales, was not a force on his own patch and which, besides, he considered a national political cul-de-sac. In 1955, he stood as one of the candidates for party leader but was defeated by Hugh Gaitskell. He agreed to serve as shadow foreign secretary under Gaitskell.

In 1959, Bevan was elected deputy leader of the Labour Party, although he was already suffering from terminal cancer. He died in 1960.

One year after its introduction the founder speaks on the Health Service

Source: Dictionaly of National Biography

This page was added by Lisa Rigg on 15/09/2009.

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