A Duty of Care

A Duty of Care

Britain Before and After Covid


One of our most celebrated historians shows how we can use the lessons of the past to build a new post-covid society in Britain

The 'duty of care' which the state owes to its citizens is a phrase much used, but what has it actually meant in Britain historically? And what should it mean in the future, once the immediate Covid crisis has passed?

In A Duty of Care, Peter Hennessy divides post-war British history into BC (before covid) and AC (after covid). He looks back to Sir William Beveridge's classic identification of the 'five giants' against which society had to battle - want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness - and laid the foundations for the modern welfare state in his wartime report. He examines the steady assault on the giants by successive post-war governments and asks what the comparable giants are now. He lays out the 'road to 2045' with 'a new Beveridge' to build a consensus for post-covid Britain with the ambition and on the scale that was achieved by the first.


  • Peter Hennessy is a historian and a dreamer ... Here is the vision of a kinder Britain, shared by the creators of the welfare state in the first postwar years ... Hennessy's book is a recital of reflections upon a long and often brilliant career as a social and political observer ... He sees huge challenges ahead in social care, social housing, climate change, artificial intelligence, technical education and the fragility of the Union, which present policies are quite inadequate to address. ... At the heart of the author's thesis is his contention that the British people during the pandemic have shown themselves to be much better than their rulers; that we must find means to mobilise our true national spirit through a nobler politics ... His enthusiasm and, yes, virtue shine through its pages, together with his rage towards those who fail us in the "duty of care" of his title. It is an inspirational work.
    Max Hastings, Sunday Times

About the author

Peter Hennessy

Peter Hennessy, one of Britain's best-known historians, is Attlee Professor of Contemporary British History at Queen Mary, University of London. He is the author of the classic 'post-war trilogy', Never Again: Britain 1945-1951 (winner of the NCR and Duff Cooper Prizes), Having it So Good: Britain in the Fifties (winner of the Orwell Prize) and Winds of Change: Britain in the Early Sixties, the bestselling The Prime Minister and The Secret State: Preparing For The Worst 1945-2010. He was made an independent crossbench life Peer in 2010.
Learn More

Sign up to the Penguin Newsletter

For the latest books, recommendations, author interviews and more