On 14th March Children England launched our mission-driven appeal to redesign the welfare state, and two weeks later my beautiful mother died at the age of 80. I don’t believe in fate in any traditional sense, but on the rollercoaster of joy and pain in grief since then, I’ve realised there is a profound connection between everything she was in life, and everything we hope to achieve in our mission. Today, as we celebrate her life and lay her to rest in my childhood home, in Mumbles, South Wales, I want to tell you why I feel that way.

Elizabeth Evans was born in Godreaman, Aberdare, in September 1937. Her adored father, Gwyn, was a miner from the age of 14 right up until he lost a leg in an accident down a mine, mere months before he was due to retire at 60. He died a few years later, of pneumoconiosis and lung cancer caused by a lifetime of breathing coal dust. Her mother, Edith, having had to work in domestic service from a similarly young age, had a tragically foreshortened life, dying before she reached the age of 40 after suffering from tuberculosis throughout my mum’s childhood, in a time before the National Health Service. They were poor, by any definition - absolute or relative - they worked their socks off, but there was simply not enough money to go round in their family, their community, their whole local economy. But ‘poor’ was a word she refused to use about her childhood, which she only described as rich with love.

Her father, my grandfather, was a brilliant, beautiful, gentle and passionately principled man who fought tooth and nail for a better world for his children than the callous depression era he had grown up in - both as an active union member, and as a soldier in the second world war. He had no pre-set ambitions for his two daughters at all, no ambitions for them to be wealthy for wealth’s sake, or for climbing a ‘social ladder’ to get away from their roots. He wanted nothing more, and nothing less, than for them to be free. Free to be, and to do whatever they chose and most wanted in life - to be liberated from the life-crushing constraints that lack of money, lack of education, and lack of options had meant for him, and for so many men and women of his generation.

When my mother was eight the war ended and the Attlee government began its historic work of creating the welfare state that had been so long-developed and prepared, not just by the Labour movement then in power, but by the great work of Liberal Lord, William Beveridge, and the culmination of many decades of charitable and political experiments and movements for social justice. It meant that as she neared 11 a fully-funded ‘free’ secondary school education, and a free university place should she qualify, was on offer. She grasped this new ‘luxury’ of learning for learning’s sake with both hands.

History was her passion, and teaching was her dream. She was the first of her generation to go to university from her community - her father could have died happy with pride there and then! She told me, only a few weeks before she died “You know, being a teacher was all I ever dreamed of, even as a young child. I always knew that’s what I wanted to be. I had the chance to do it, so I did it and I loved every minute of it. I was bloody good at it too!”

She was indeed. Since her death I have had the particular privilege of getting messages from former pupils: some of whom who were taught by her as long as 60 years ago and remained in touch with her ever since; others being taught by her 20 years ago, and counted her as a friend and inspiration long into their adulthood:

“There are only two kinds of teachers; those who do ‘a job’ and those who revel in the joy of education. “Mrs E” (as we knew her!) was utterly one of the latter. She adored her subject, adored the process of educating, but most importantly adored young people. I could tell wonderful stories about her teaching Tudor history by comparing it to Elvis Presley. Her stopping a forensic explanation of the Act Of Union to check on the hangovers of three of her class and insisting they go out to vomit before she got into the nitty-gritty of Anglo-welsh legislature. Her being kidnapped in the name of charity (and in the name of avoiding the submission of an essay!)”

“She taught 'every' learner something, which not all did. I remember fondly her quiet desperation and good humour when dealing with a bunch of 'green as leaves' scally teenagers.”

“Mrs E really helped me when I missed months off school with glandular fever just before the A-Levels. If it wasn’t for her extra help and support there’s no way I’d have passed.”

“I wish you all an advocate, friend and inspiration like Elizabeth Evans. Her wonderful, warrior, wit-filled approach to life is the way we should all do it.”

Teaching was a life vocation for her, not a ‘job’. It was a ‘public service’ too, of course - a status about which she cared greatly; the devaluation of which she despaired of latterly in life. It’s also important to recognise the role that having a career, a vocation, a role in society and a salary of her own played in her being a truly liberated woman.

After qualifying as a teacher, Elizabeth set out excitedly into the world of being a young professional woman. In her mid twenties she got married, but the relationship all-too-quickly became abusive. She found the personal strength to protect herself and end her marriage almost as quickly as she had entered it - married and divorced again within 18 months. For a woman to leave a marriage and become a divorcee at that time was still a huge social stigma, and domestic abuse still an even bigger unspoken taboo. It is a testament to her personal strength and spirit that she did, but I know that the fact she had an independent identity of her own, a career and source of income for herself in her teaching vocation, played an important role in supporting her personal strength and courage to leave him. She was not, and never would be, an economically dependent wife; she had the ability to support herself without a husband - a position in life almost unheard of in her mother’s generation. Once she had divorced him her whole family committed to excise him and the whole experience from the family record, and I truly love them all for it. But as her proud daughter in a #MeToo era, I want to write it back in now, as it’s such an important insight into the warrior spirit I knew her to have, as well as a visceral lesson in the vital importance of financial independence and autonomy for women’s rights and equality. Liberation as a woman and liberation from poverty were very closely interdependent, and the welfare state had helped to create it in her life too.

Her next marriage was for love and for life. A meeting of minds, hearts and a marriage of true equals, in which, over the course of 52 years, each in turn took the lead role of ‘breadwinner’ at times, in order for the other to pursue their personal dream - whether it was a change of career or the ebb and flow of parenthood and care. The man she married for life, my father, is not the topic of this piece himself (when it comes, that will be a book!), but he was the love of her life from the moment they met to the moment she died. He was a bit of a ‘posh’ kid compared to her, a boarding school boy, and the son of her landlady. But there was nothing in their completely different family histories that stopped them from finding love, and founding a family together. I think that would have made Beveridge and Attlee proud. From poor working class and upper-middle class privilege they met ‘in the middle’, and found in each other their inspiring, self-evident equal.

The education system takes prominence in this story but we have much to thank the NHS for too. The NHS ensured that she survived breast cancer, avoided imminent cervical cancer, could walk thanks to a hip replacement, and that she lived to 80 - longer than anyone else in her own family had - and was able to meet her grand-daughter Lana. Every one of these life-changing benefits given unconditionally by the NHS: they are, to every one of us, literally priceless improvements on the life her parents faced.

Was my mother a ‘product’ of the welfare state? No. She was liberated by the welfare state to be fiercely and uniquely herself. Was she socially mobile, getting her feet on the ladder? No, she was free. Did she become a teacher to deliver improved outcomes for disadvantaged children? No. She became a teacher because it was her dream, her sense of purpose in society, and because she understood that just one great relationship with one teacher can change someone’s life forever. Did she depend on the welfare state to climb out of poverty? No. She wore her roots with pride, her equality with conviction and her visceral Welsh socialism with passion.

As a proud daughter of a ‘Beveridge Babe’, or a ‘Welfare State Woman’, if I can use my organisation’s website to publish this obituary today for her then of course I will. If I get the chance to I will play my part in creating a renewed welfare state, as my grandfather did the first time round, so that it might have the same liberating impact on children in future that it had on my mum in the past. This is my mother’s obituary, and I really don’t want to write one for the welfare state too. It’s too important to let go of - but too damaged today by cuts and decades of ‘transformational reform’ to take for granted. If you want to help us do justice to the welfare state, you can read more here.