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Welfare state 1918-1979

  • Welfare aid given in form of money or necessities to those in need.
  • Usually the old, the young, the sick and the poor.
  • First three were seen as ‘deserving’ poor, rightly cared for by the relatives, the church, private organisations and increasingly the state.
  •  Until the end of the 19th century, healthy people of working age who fell into destitution were often seen as morally at fault the ‘undeserving’ poor
  • The process of having to prove that you ‘deserved’ welfare was a hated, humiliating experience.
  • From 1908 the liberal government inaugurated a huge expansion of state-provided welfare.
  • These new mechanism were open to all who qualified with no distinction between ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor.
  • The new reforms were far from universal , pensions were only offered to the poorest people and unemployment insurance were only available for 15 weeks a year to workers in 6 industries.
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  • The situation at the end of ww1 was far from a welfare state
  • Minimum support was offered without the independent need to survive.
  • WW1 generates a desire and oportunity to create something like a welfare state
  • The onset of economic problems after the 1920s undermined such hopes
  • the adoption of keynesian policies and the desire to to avoid the problems that occurres after the great war caused a comprehensive and sustained shift in  welfare provision.
  • The Attlee government spearheaded a welfare revolution, with the NHS being the jewel in the crown.
  • However even as this was being done there were concerns over the cost and peoples morals and independent.
  • over time these developed in to fully sustained critisms that continued to grow as britain entered the 21st century.
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The extent and nature of welfare provisions, 1918-


  • This was the most pressing issues for interwar government's.
  • It was never below 1 million between the end of the 1920s and mid- 40's (10% of the workforce)
  • It peaked at over 3 million in the early 1930's.
  • Conflict between supporting the unemployed and balancing the books.
  • Self-funding National insurance scheme implemented by the 1911 National Insurance Act
  • The war undermined this scheme as many of the 3.5 million returning troops were not eligible fotr the benefits provided.
  • This was because they had not worked in one of the specified industries or had not made sufficient contributions.
  • The wartime coalition realised thata difficult solution was developing,the national insurance scheme would need to be redesigned and the unemployed could'nt be left to rely on old Poor law.
  • The alternative would be to hand out dole money.
  • This would be paid out of taxation (or borrowing) with no link to individual contributions
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  • The short term solution, to issue dole money but under the name ' the out of work donation' (1918-1920).
  • Issued to remaining troops and then civilian unemployed until they found work.
  • It was meant to be temporary, it set 2 important precendents 
  • The government accepted the duty to adequently support unemployed, regardless of insurance contributions.
  • It provided more money for family dependents
  • At the same time a new Unemployed Insurance Act was developed to offer a longer-term solution.
  • The idea, to increase the number of workers covered by insurance would make the scheme self funding
  • The act was pased in the 1920's just as the effect of the post war slump were setting in.
  • Rather than creating a self-funding system, the greater number of eligible claimants quickly drained the accumulated funds.
  • By 1921 the government was forced to make 'extended' or 'uncovernated' payments; these were meant to be paid for through worker contributions from future employment were dole payments disguised as insurance.
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  • They made this law as the Poor law could not cope with the scale of the problem and ministers feared a revolution if the unemployed were not supported.
  • Government already pressured, 2.4 million workers had taken part in strikes over pay and conditions in 1919.
  • Attempts were made to limit the expense, a seeking work test was implemented March 1921
  • By March 1930, 3 million claims had been rejected because of the test.
  • Major changes in welfare provisions for the unemployed were enforced by the 1929 Local Government Act and the 1934 Unemployment act.
  • The local government act said that county and borough council had to set up Public Assistance commitees (PAC's).
  • they were central funded and replace the poor law guardians who had administered funds under the old poor law.
  • In response to the financial crisis of 1931, the PAC's were given the power to administer means test to claimants
  • Their combined household income was throughly investigated to judge eligibilty for dole payments.
  • The means test was hated as it was seen as an invasion of privacy and unfair, as some PAC's were more stringent than others .
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  • The unemployment act seperated the treatment of insurable from long-term employment.
  • Part 1 of the act provided 26 weeks of benefit payments to the 14.5 million workers who had paid into the scheme
  • Part 2 created a national Unemployment Assistance Board (UAB) to help those with no entitlement to insurance benefits.
  • By 1937 the UAB had assisted 1 million people on a national means-tested basis.
  • By this point the Poor Law provisions shrunk to just a few groups not covered by the UAB; these included widows who could not yet claim a pension and deserted wives.
  • The government had not been able to solve unemployment largely because the prevailing wisdom of retrenchment ( spending cuts and tax rises) could not stimulate economic growth.
  • It was only when huge state spending was poured into rearmament after 1936 that persistent unemployment was finally tackled.
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  • State pensions had been introduced by the 1908 Pension's Act.
  • It was hughely popular with the eligible over -70's
  • There were critisisms that they were means-tested and did not sypport the widows and children of the deceased.
  • Neville Chamberlain- minister for health
  • He addressed these concerns with the 1925 Widows',Orphans' and Old Age Contributory pensions act.
  • Provided a pension of 10 shillings a week for those aged 65-70 and provided for widows, their children and orphans.
  • It was funded by a compulsory contirbution rather than taxation
  • This was initially unpopular with the labour party, they felt it unfairly penalised the poor
  • Tough economic conditions and an aging population led to it general acceptance
  • Self-employed workers of both sexes were allowed to join the scheme in 1937
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  • Local and national governments made efforts to improve housing since the mid-victorian era.
  • Concern that slums promoted crime and disease.
  • Lots of slum clearances took place before 1918
  • Major improvements in urban living standards were achieved by the introduction of mains water and sewage to homes.
  • As late as 1899, only a quarter of houses in machester had flushing toilets compare to the 98% by 1914.
  • Government had promised returning troops ' a home fit for heroes'.
  • The 1919 Housing and Town Planning Act aimed to empower local authorities to use central government funds to meet housing needs
  • It was estimated that ove 600,000 houses would have to be built to meet demand
  • Only 213,000 were actually constructed before the onset of the recession lead to the 'Geddes axe' (1922 geddes axe led to cuts in spending on education, pensions, unemployment benefit housing and health from £206 million to £182 million. also prompted cuts in defence)
  • As a result the housing shortage grew worse with an estimated shortfall of 822,000 houses in 1923.
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  • A consequence was young married couples living with their parents
  • Conservative and Labour Housing acts in 1923 and 1924 respectively sought to use subsidies to encourage the construction of private and state-owned housing.
  • These and the futher Labour housing act in 1930 promoted a great deal of house building between 1919 and 1940.
  • Four million homes were built in total, with one million built by the public sector.
  • The 1930 Act used state funds to rehouse people living in over crowded cities; most were built in large cities.
  • Between 1924 and 1939, 20 'cottage estates' were created on the outskirts of london. these were new suburbs connected the centre by rail.
  • While the quality of housing was much improved some projects were not properly thought through.
  • At the huge Becontree estate (25,800 houses and flats) a lack of local jobs nearly led to disaster, which was only avoided thanks to the construction of a new ford car factory nearby in 1931.
  • With the new homes came not only indoor plumbing and gardens but also increased demand for domestic goods such as new furniture, which futher stimulated the economy and helped raise the average standard of living
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The impact of the Second World War, the Labour Gov

The impact of total war on social welfare:

  • WW2 lead to wide consensus that welfare provision needed a radical overhaul
  • A political will developed to iron out the unfairness and inconsistency of a system that piecemeal in reaction to a series of difficult problems than planning to meet them.
  • There were several reasons for this shift in attitudes among politicians and the general public:

- A total war, which affected all, had prompted total solutions such as universal rationing and the provision of communal bomb shelters; the success of which gave a boost to universalist as  opposed to selective solutions. The sacrafices made during the war lead to the public expecting a just reward. There was several discussions of the fair shares that should continue into peacetimes. The evacution of city children to the countryside opened showed the extent of the poverty. This contributed to the accpetance of the need to change.

-The success of a state directed war economy increased political and popular belief in the political state intervention to improve peoples' lives after the war.  the war forced government to borrow and spend large susm of money in pursuit of victory. Keynes ides proved to be robust and were used to fund the expansion of the welfare state.

- the war forced a wartime government and led to a grea deal of co-operation over war-time policy.White papers of 1944 was the basis of the 1946 National Insurance Act, helped to promote conservative acceptance of act.

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The Beveridge report ( December 1942)

  • William beveridge- liberal politician with an interest in social reform
  • June 1941- appointed to head government committee to investigate welfare provisions and reccommed improvements.
  • Set up on Churchill's request
  • Partly to predict future developments and to fix conservatives failure to deliver promise after WW1.
  • Clear feeling the war beinmg fought to deliver a better world and a more systematic, inclusive welfare system was fundamental.
  • By November 1942 ready to deliver findings:
  • Needed to take the five giants want (national insurance), disease (through NHS), ignorance (through better education), squalor (by rehousing) and idleness (through the maintanence of full employment).
  • For the provision of the state welfare to be centralised, regulated and systematically organised.
  • state welfare to be fuinded entirely by a compulsory single insurance payment, did not anticipate extra government spending on welfare and under his scheme. wanted to avoid any 'means-tested' assistance payments and the rise of the santa clause state (given everything for nothing) as a liberal he didnt want the system to incentivise dependence on the state.
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Beveridge Report- continued

  • Although his findings were not new,his report drew together the many findings that had taken place and presented them as a coherent, consolidated programme for post-war reconstruction.
  • Popularity also explained by timing; winning the war made these prospects seem realistic and achievable. 
  • copies were even dropped over Germany to encouraqe the civillian population to demand peace.
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