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About this book

Over the last 200 years Britain has witnessed profound changes in the nature and extent of state welfare. Drawing on the latest historical and social science research The Origins of the British Welfare State looks at the main developments in the history of social welfare provision in this period. It looks at the nature of problems facing British society in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries and shows how these provided the foundation for the growth of both statutory and welfare provision in the areas of health, housing, education and the relief of poverty. It also examines the role played by the Liberal government of 1906-14 in reshaping the boundaries of public welfare provision and shows how the momentous changes associated with the First and Second World Wars paved the way for the creation of the 'classic' welfare state after 1945.
This comprehensive and broad-ranging yet accessible account encourages the reader to question the 'inevitability' of present-day arrangements and provides an important framework for comparative analysis. It will be essential reading for all concerned with social policy, British social history and public policy.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

Abstract
During the Second World War, the British government published a series of reports on the need for changes in welfare provision which helped to fuel a widespread desire for social reconstruction in the postwar period. Although there were undoubtedly many important disagreements over different aspects of social policy, the 1950s and 1960s witnessed what many people regarded as an unprecedented degree of inter-party agreement on the broad principles of welfare provision. This led the American political scientist, Hugh Heclo, to argue that during this period ‘the welfare state acquired an ideological life of its own’, in which ‘Britain’s welfare state became infused with a series of vague but deeply and widely held beliefs: as part of a common society, we do have shared needs; people — all people — are entitled to a decent life; privilege and greed must not be allowed to emasculate citizens’ social rights; government can be a force for good in securing these ends’.1 However, during the 1970s this ‘welfare state consensus’ was assailed by critics on both the left and the right, and this contributed to the election of a new Conservative government in 1979 which was much more overtly hostile to the principles of state welfare provision than any of its postwar predecessors. The Conservatives remained in power for the next 18 years, and when Labour returned to office in 1997 it seemed determined to rid itself of its historical reputation as the party of ‘tax and spend’.
Bernard Harris

2. The growth of state intervention

Abstract
Although the growth of state intervention in the provision of welfare services is intimately connected with the concept of the ‘welfare state’, the definition of what constitutes a ‘welfare state’ can sometimes appear to be fraught with difficulty. Slack suggested that Britain (or, at any rate, England) already possessed a local welfare state by the end of the eighteenth century, whereas Roberts argued that the foundations of the welfare state were only truly laid between 1833 and 1854, when the reformed House of Commons oversaw the introduction of central administration in the areas of factory reform, the poor law, penal policy, education and public health.1 However, most commentators have tended to argue that it is more appropriate to confine the use of the term ‘welfare state’ to the range of welfare services which have been provided by the majority of western governments since 1945.2 According to Asa Briggs:
A welfare state is a state in which organised power is deliberately used (through politics and administration) in an effort to modify the play of market forces in at least three directions — first, by guaranteeing individuals and families a minimum income irrespective of the market value of their work or their property; second, by narrowing the extent of insecurity by enabling individuals and families to meet certain ‘social contingencies’ (for example, sickness, old age and unemployment), which lead otherwise to individual and family crises; and third, by ensuring that all citizens without distinction of status or class are offered the best standards available in relation to a certain agreed range of social services.3
Bernard Harris

3. Britain in the age of industrial growth

Abstract
In Prices, food and wages in Scotland 1550–1780, Gibson and Smout quoted from two hitherto unpublished recollections of eighteenth-century life. Alexander Maxwell recalled the difficulties faced by his grandfather and greatuncle in the spring of 1740, a time ‘of people wandering from Dundee through the country in search of food, and bodies being found in dens and moors with wild herbs in their mouths’. John Mackinnon described how his father, a Glasgow handloom weaver, had been ‘unable to get wages owing to him from his employer in the dearth of 1799–1800’:
There was nothing in the house to eat, and they had little coals except what was on the fire. They went to bed supperless, and as they had nothing to eat, they thought it better to remain in bed instead of rising on Sunday morning as it was warmer than sitting in a house with neither food nor fire. A rap came to the door on the Sunday morning, and your grandmother rose to see who it was; it turned out to be an acquaintance who was a maidservant in a gentleman’s family, and who wanted a letter written to an acquaintance who had enlisted sometime before … [she] brought with her a few pounds weight of good oatmeal, and some other odds and ends of provisions; she had not money to get paper or pay the postage of the letter, and she brought these articles of provisions instead; she gave your grandmother an idea of what she wanted written, and left her to pile up the letter according to her own taste. Thus the provisions brought so unexpectedly by this woman kept them in a sufficiency of food, till the manufacturer obtained money.1
Bernard Harris

4. The New Poor Law and the relief of poverty, 1834–1914

Abstract
Although the agricultural writer, Arthur Young, believed that ‘everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor, or they will never be industrious’, other writers regarded the equation of the ‘labouring classes’ and ‘the poor’ as counterproductive. In 1797, the Conservative philosopher, Edmund Burke, argued that ‘when we affect to pity, as poor, those who must labour or the world cannot exist, we are trifling with the condition of mankind.’ In Burke’s eyes, ‘this affected pity only tends to dissatisfy them with their condition, and to teach them to seek resources where no resources are to be found, in something else than their own industry, and frugality, and sobriety.’1
Bernard Harris

5. Charity and philanthropy in the nineteenth century

Abstract
Historians of social policy have recently begun to pay much more attention to the history of charity and philanthropy. This reflects a growing recognition of the part which philanthropy must have played in the past, and an increasing disenchantment with the claims made on behalf of state welfare in the present. However, there is still considerable disagreement over the evaluation of Victorian philanthropic activity. During the 1970s and 1980s, many historians criticised Victorian charities for being ‘élitist rather than egalitarian, patchy and moralising, ameliorative rather than curative, amateur rather than professional, overlapping and wasteful rather than properly-planned, [and] dependent on suspect goodwill or objectionable ability to pay rather than [being] centred on needs and entitlements’ and yet, as Finlayson has argued, such accounts may also obscure the extent to which philanthropy provided both individuals and groups with opportunities for active participation in the meeting of needs whilst neglecting ‘its role in drawing public attention to social issues, in exerting pressure — and, more generally, in promoting choice’. In the end, as Finlayson himself suggests, our attitudes to the nature and role of Victorian philanthropy may reveal as much about ourselves as they do about the period we are investigating.1
Bernard Harris

6. Welfare from below: self-help and mutual aid

Abstract
Historians of nineteenth-century social policy have often drawn attention to the inadequacy of societal arrangements for meeting social needs. State welfare provision was grudging and limited, and charity was inefficient, unpredictable and indeterminate. However, much less attention has been paid to the ways in which working-class people sought to protect themselves and their families in the face of these deficiencies. This chapter builds on recent work in the social history of welfare by looking first at the role played by informal arrangements within working-class communities themselves; second at the role of working-class credit; third at the development of institutional forms of mutual aid such as friendly societies and trade-union welfare schemes; and finally at the role of more individualistic or commercially-oriented organisations such as building societies, savings banks and industrial assurance companies.
Bernard Harris

7. Medicine and health care in the nineteenth century

Abstract
During the last 30 years, medical historians have made great efforts to place the history of medicine in its social context, and to emphasise the full range of factors affecting the health of individual people. They are now less inclined to assume that the intentions of health-care providers were necessarily benevolent, and more sceptical of their claims to have made a significant contribution to the improvement of public well-being.1
Bernard Harris

8. Public health in the nineteenth century

Abstract
Although the nineteenth century witnessed many improvements in therapeutic medicine, most medical historians have tended to accept the view that these improvements made only a small contribution to the decline of mortality. McKeown argued that approximately one-third of the overall decline in mortality during the second half of the nineteenth century was caused by a decline in the incidence of water- and food-borne diseases, which he attributed to the impact of Victorian sanitary intervention, and that approximately 44 per cent of mortality decline was associated with a reduction in the death rate from airborne diseases, which he attributed to improvements in diet and nutrition.1 This chapter explores the history of this debate, and examines the development of the campaign to improve public health from the late-eighteenth century onwards.
Bernard Harris

9. Housing policy and housing conditions, 1800–1914

Abstract
Housing is both a personal and a public issue. Throughout the period covered by this book, the majority of people obtained their housing through the private market, either by renting from private landlords, or by borrowing large sums of money from banks or building societies, or (more rarely) by purchasing their property outright. At the same time, housing is also a public issue. The state accepts that it is in the public interest to ensure that all housing meets certain basic standards, if only to guarantee basic standards of public health, and it also accepts a more specific responsibility to ensure that all individuals are guaranteed access to shelter. The aim of this chapter is to examine the different ways in which the private and public aspects of housing interacted to shape the history of working-class housing in Britain in the nineteenth century.
Bernard Harris

10. Education and schooling, 1800–1914

Abstract
According to Rees, ‘there is one … major service which has every right to be classed as “social”, namely education, but convention does not usually admit it into the fold, perhaps because it is too large a subject, or because it raises too many issues peculiar to itself’, but historians of social policy have usually regarded the history of educational provision as an essential part of their canvas. This is reflected in both Derek Fraser’s and Pat Thane’s accounts of the origins and development of the welfare state, as well as in more recent accounts of twentieth-century social policy, including those by David Gladstone, Howard Glennerster and Rodney Lowe.1
Bernard Harris

11. The Liberal welfare reforms, 1906–14

Abstract
Dicey argued that nineteenth-century Britain experienced a transition from ‘Benthamite individualism’ to ‘collectivism’. He highlighted the existence of a number of Acts, including the Elementary Education Acts, which pointed to a new relationship between the state and the individual. However, even Dicey was unprepared for the extension of public welfare provision in the years immediately following the first edition of his lectures. In 1914, he suggested that ‘the main current of legislative opinion from the beginning of the twentieth century has run vehemently towards collectivism. When the last century came to an end, belief in laissez faire had lost much of its hold on the people of England. The problem now before us is to ascertain what are the new causes or conditions which have since the beginning of the present century given additional force to the influence of more-or-less socialistic ideas.’1
Bernard Harris

12. The First World War and social policy

Abstract
When the First World War broke out, many people believed that it would all be over fairly quickly, but the war lasted far longer, and its effects were much more far-reaching, than the great majority of observers seem to have anticipated. By the end of 1918, more than 1.6 million extra women had been drafted into the civilian workforce, more than six million men had either volunteered or been conscripted for military service, approximately 163,000 men had been taken prisoner, 1.7 million had been wounded, and 723,000 had either died or been killed.1 When one considers that Britain was only one of the countries directly affected by the war, it is not surprising that many historians should regard the period between 1914 and 1918 as the true beginning of what Eric Hobsbawm has called ‘the short twentieth century’.2
Bernard Harris

13. Voluntary action and the ‘new philanthropy’, 1914–39

Abstract
In 1913, the Secretary of the Charity Organisation Society, Charles Stewart Loch, wrote that the social legislation enacted since the beginning of the century ‘indicates very clearly that the spirit of enterprise in social matters [has] passed from the people to the state’, and that the introduction of national health insurance, in particular, was the ‘death warrant’ of the friendly societies.1 However, as many historians have pointed out, this was not necessarily the case, and the history of the interwar period demonstrates that the growth of state welfare provision did not necessarily imply the eradication of the voluntary sector. The aim of this chapter is to explain some of the reasons for this, beginning with the history of charitable and philanthropic activity during the First World War.
Bernard Harris

14. Unemployment and poverty between the wars

Abstract
The interwar period has often been seen as one of strong contrasts. On the one hand, it saw improvements in real wages, an increase in female employment opportunities, the rise of new industries, improvements in health, housing and education and, for those in work, a general improvement in the standard of living. On the other hand, it also experienced the rise of mass unemployment and the persistence of high levels of poverty, even in some of the most prosperous parts of the country.1 Bowley and Hogg found that 6.5 per cent of the working-class population of Bolton, Northampton, Reading, Stanley and Warrington was living in poverty, and Llewellyn Smith found that 9.8 per cent of the working-class population of London was living in poverty. Rowntree calculated that 6.8 per cent of the working-class population of York was living in ‘primary poverty’, whilst 31.1 per cent of the working-class population lacked the resources needed for ‘human needs’. Tout estimated that 10.7 per cent of the population of Bristol was living in poverty, and that a further 20.8 per cent was living in ‘insufficiency’.2
Bernard Harris

15. Health and medical care, 1918–39

Abstract
As we have already seen, the First World War posed a series of major challenges to the infrastructure of health care. In addition to the physical and psychological stresses inflicted on different sections of the population, the war also led to the call-up of more than half the country’s qualified medical personnel, and the redeployment of many civilian medical facilities for military use. However, the war also focused attention on the importance of the nation’s health and, as a result, played a major role in the passage of such measures as the Notification of Births (Extension) Act of 1915, the Maternity and Child Welfare Act of 1918, the establishment of the Ministry of Health in 1919, and the conversion of the Medical Research Committee into the Medical Research Council in 1920. It also made an important contribution to the development of medical science, and laid the foundations of a number of major therapeutic developments. Although many of these developments were only slowly absorbed into peacetime practice, the war saw the introduction of blood transfusions, new methods for the treatment of wounds and fractures, improvements in the design of artificial limbs, the development of reconstitutive or plastic surgery, new methods of treating heart disease, the use of oxygen therapy for the treatment of pneumonia, severe bronchitis and heart failure, the development of aviation medicine, and research into wound-shock, shell-shock and gas asphyxia.1
Bernard Harris

16. Housing policy between the wars

Abstract
In 1914, less than one per cent of British households lived in local-authority-owned accommodation, and it is likely that less than 15 per cent owned their own homes. Between 85 and 90 per cent of households are generally assumed to have rented their accommodation from private landlords. By the end of the interwar period, ten per cent of households lived in local-authority accommodation, and between 27 and 35 per cent owned the properties in which they lived. This chapter examines the background to these changes, and assesses their impact on the overall quality of housing provision.
Bernard Harris

17. Educational provision between the wars

Abstract
As we have already seen, the status of education within histories of social policy has sometimes been questioned, and Marshall was compelled to omit it altogether from his major textbook on the subject.1 Gilbert omitted it from his study of interwar social policy on the grounds that ‘there is little to write about. When the political leaders of both major parties are unable to redeem a 20-year old promise to increase the school-leaving age beyond 14, a nation can hardly be said to have a deep concern with public education.’2 However, as Simon pointed out, ‘failure on the part of government to implement policies which … had widespread support is as much a matter of history as achievement of the most forward-looking programme — and such failure shapes later developments just as surely.’3 The aim of this chapter is to examine the reasons why interwar governments failed to introduce greater changes in public educational provision, but also to examine the extent to which significant changes were introduced, in spite of considerable difficulties.
Bernard Harris

18. The Second World War and after

Abstract
Although there were comparatively few major legislative developments in social policy between 1918 and 1939, there were a large number of incremental changes which had a profound effect on the overall pattern of welfare provision. However, even though ‘the provision of unemployment benefit, as with other social services, was probably more comprehensive in Britain … than in any other country which operated a democratic system,’1 there were still large numbers of people who were living in squalid or overcrowded accommodation, who were unable to obtain adequate medical care, or who continued to depend on means-tested public assistance benefits. It is of course impossible to say how far these issues might have been addressed if the war had not occurred. However, given that it did occur, it is important to try to establish the extent to which it helped to highlight these deficiencies and to generate the political momentum needed to address them.
Bernard Harris
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