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The Origins Of The Welfare State

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Published: Tue, 16 May 2017

The term ‘modern Welfare State’ comes from the Beveridge report of 1941. The words represent that Government provides a minimum level of taxed welfare support for citizens in need. Beveridge and his five giants showed a greater need for an active role by Government in the welfare of its citizens through better housing, education, benefits for the unemployed and an accessible National Health Service. The foundations of this started mainly with the Liberal Reforms of 1906 – 1914 but this can even go back to the 1601 poor law.

The 1601 poor law had control over the poor with very little interference from Government, as it was locally administered by the parish overseers (P. Spicker 2008) but still required the Church to assist. In 1834 the poor law was changed by Earl Grey (Spartacus Schoolnet); workhouses were introduced which meant no able bodied person would receive money or help from the poor law authorities (M. Bloy 2002). Other changes happened to this law; children would get schooling and be clothed and fed while in the workhouse. However, some people spoke out against the workhouses and called them ‘prisons for the poor’. Seebohm Rowntree did a study in 1901 and found a number of people living in poverty even though they were working, their wages were below the poverty line and they were struggling to survive (R. Ensor 1980).

This led to the Liberal Reforms of 1906-1914, with the introduction of free school meals in 1906 and medical inspections in 1907 paid for by the State, but the treatment was largely unaffordable and relied on the charity of others. This was the start of new ideas in the Social Service State and Liberals made sweeping changes in their reforms; the elderly received an old age pension in 1908 and the sick would be paid whilst being unable to work through the National insurance Act of 1911. Unemployed people did not have to wander the country looking for work with the new labour exchanges set up in 1909, which meant employers could advertise jobs in one place, much like the Job Centres of today.

Even with all the laws to help the poor, it still required a lot of help from other sectors (pluralism); the Church still played a major role in providing housing, food and clothing; charities still had to ask the rich to help. Even the poor had to help by sharing what little they had. Families united and pulled together to survive and this built a community spirit. The State didn’t want the poor to rely on State help alone.

This is the foundation of the modern Welfare State today. The NHS (established in 1948) still relies on outside resources, with charities like St John’s Ambulance helping provide front line assistance and organisations such as BUPA taking some of the pressure off the service from those who can pay.

Housing for the poor is now mostly run through charitable associations in most areas and the Welfare State relies on voluntary organisations like Salvation Army and Barnardos to help with problems in society. This partnership with state, church, private business, voluntary organisations and charities has created a safety net for the poor in which children and adults have protection from poverty, abuse, hunger; giving them security and care in times of desperation.

Task 2: Explain the contents and evaluate the purpose of the 1834 Poor Law. (540 words not including titles)

The 1601 Poor Law had controlled the actions of the poor; making it very difficult for the poor to travel the country begging for food and shelter and helping stop associated anti-social behaviour. The poor could only get aid from charities and the local tax payers from their place of birth.

This was costing more every year and the middle and upper classes that were paying through taxes, started to think they were paying for the lazy and those who would not help themselves to find work and better their lives. Charles Grey (2nd Earl Grey) was prime minister at this time and had been making sweeping reforms throughout Government; he set up a poor law commission to examine the poor law. The commission felt that to relieve poverty, the poor had to help themselves. As a result of this the 1834 poor law amendment act was passed.

This new act made it so the poor were only able to receive any aid if they entered a poor house. All the parishes of the previous 1601 law now had to group together and set up poor law unions. This gave greater control over the poor and even on the cost to the Government and local tax payers; this was called indoor relief as opposed to outdoor relief. Outdoor relief tried to get the poor to look for work themselves and made those who were lazy and avoided work less eligible for help, with the hope that the fear of the poor house would be a deterrent and make them find work. These places were unforgiving; you would have to work hard to receive any state or charity help. The masters and matrons were harsh and there to be a visible deterrent; conditions hit the papers of half starved inmates even eating the rotting flesh from bones at the Andover workhouse (September 1845; The Times). Parliament had to do something and created a select committee in 1846 and with the result of its findings the poor law commission was abolished in 1847.

The poor law act of 1834 was intended to be the solution to pauperism and believed the moral character of the working man would be his own saviour. This was shown not to be the case. The Government had to make improvements to this law after anti-poor law propaganda in its early years, to social unrest and riots in Bradford in 1837 where troops had to control the Chartism threat (the people’s charter). These revolts made way for changes to improved conditions for the working populations, such that the threat of the workhouse could be avoided through better sanitisation and clean water to counter sickness. Medical Officers were also introduced in 1871 to control public health issues. The state would provide schooling for 5-10 year olds from 1870 – 1880 to educate the poor to better themselves and Hospitals were slowly being made available for the most needy, to aid those in the population on low wages. The amendment of 1834 did go some way to improving the poor’s conditions, but it would not be until a number of years later that the Government chose not to control the poor by harsh measures but by working in partnership with them.

Task 3: Outline some of the Liberal Reforms and evaluate their contribution to welfare policy (791 words not including titles)

In Manchester 1899, out of 12,000 men offering to fight in the South African war, 8,000 were rejected on grounds such as malnutrition and illness. This led Charles Booth and Seebohm Rowntree to undertake studies of the state of poverty in Britain between 1901 and 1902. Rowntree found that the number of people in York found to be in ‘primary’ poverty, was 15.45 percent of the wage earning class. Investigations by AL Rowley and AR Burnet found that working class areas throughout England showed much the same (R. Esnor ‘England’). This came from low paid jobs in society which made them have a very low standard of living.

The Liberals took power in 1906 under Sir Henry Bannerman with a huge majority. They had not promised to bring poor law reforms, but were influenced by Rowntree and Booths’ reports which showed the laissez faire solution was not working in Britain.

In 1906 the Liberals started to reform the poor law starting with the (1906) Education Act; this meant free school meals for the poorest families, making sure a child would receive one healthy meal a day. This was a great success as it encouraged parents to make sure their child went to school and keep them off the streets, but some local councils did not follow it up as it meant they would have to increase local taxes. Some councils did not want to move forward with new reforms for the poorest in society (National Archives).

Liberals took this act further with the introduction of compulsory school medical inspections in 1907; these ensured children would be healthy but the downfall meant if the child needed treatment, they would still have to pay. The poorest of families would not have been able to afford this and would have had to go to charities for help. This changed in 1912 with the introduction of School Clinics; by this time the Government had introduced the new Children’s Act of 1909 which protected children from persecution / neglect from the family or their environment.

The Liberals also helped the old with the introduction of a Pension Act in 1908 for those aged 70; they would receive 5 shillings a week and if married, 7 shillings 6d. This took away the affects of the workhouse for the elderly and protected them to a certain extent from working themselves to an early death, whilst taking away the pressure placed on poor families to look after an elderly family member. This would be funded by general taxation and had many critics. Many believed that the elderly had wasted money throughout their youth (National Archives) and now it would be down to the middle to wealthy classes to pay for their old age. To qualify people had to live in Britain for twenty years. Criminals and those felt to be idle did not receive any pension. They would still have to find work or enter the workhouse. This seemed fair as if you contributed to taxes you would be entitled to the pension; if not then you would be looking for the charity of others or the workhouse.

Under Lloyd George the National Insurance Act of 1911 (Part 1 Health) would protect the sick if they became ill whilst working and help them and their family avoid ending up in the workhouse or in poverty. The worker would contribute 4d into the scheme while the employer would add another 3d, while Government added another 2d; this would give the worker 9d for only paying 4d. If the worker became ill, he would receive 10 shillings per week for up to 26 weeks and after that if he still was injured, 5 shillings disability pension. This scheme relied on the worker to protect himself from possible sickness / injury and built a structured work ethic for the working classes with a safety net if required; this is what Lloyd George hoped.

The National Insurance Act of 1912 then came in to protect those who worked in jobs that lasted for short periods, like ship builders and construction workers. They paid into the scheme and could claim 7 shillings for 15 weeks whilst out of work until they either went back to their previous job or found another job. This was made easier with the set up of the Labour Exchanges in 1909, where employers could advertise positions of work in a designated place to save time for the jobseeker travelling from area to area. By 1910 eighty three exchanges had been set up. This system can still be seen today with the local Job Centres helping skilled and unskilled workers find employment to keep the costs of welfare to a minimum and ensure no-one had the option to be idle.

Task 4: Describe and discuss Beveridge’s 5 giant evils and outline the key points of the Beveridge report and evaluate their significance. (1,274 words not including titles)

William Henry Beveridge (1st Baron Beveridge 1879 – 1963) studied law in Oxford and became interested in the social service state while writing for the Morning Post Newspaper. Under a Liberal Government of 1906 – 1914 he became a prominent member of Lloyd George’s pensions and National Insurance scheme and was also involved in setting up labour exchanges throughout the country. After his book called ‘Unemployment’ (1909), he altered expert opinion from one where low wages were seen as the cause of poverty, to one where people only being casually employed and not working all the time, meant they were unable to get themselves out of poverty.

At the time of the Second World War, Beveridge was asked by the coalition Government to commission a report of how to rebuild after the war. Beveridge published his findings in 1942, but the words ‘welfare state’ actually entered print in the early part of the war in 1941. In December 1942, the BBC broadcast to Nazi occupied Europe that ‘Britain is grappling with its social problems through Beveridge’s proposals, even through war’. This could have been seen as propaganda.

As part of his report, Beveridge identified 5 giant evils that caused poverty. They were:

Want. He identified that people lacked the security of an income, which in turn left them short of funds to live off. These were usually unemployed, sick, old or widowed and possibly unable to work through no fault of their own. To counter this problem, Beveridge created a means tested benefit system that would give the poorest people a safety net in times of crisis. This would be paid for by a compulsory flat rate National Insurance Scheme paid by the employee and employer. It would use the Rowntree calculations of basic needs to tackle poverty (Thane 1982).

Beveridge also suggested that social insurance schemes like child benefit became universal and not means tested as this would help with the extra costs of having children preventing them becoming a burden to the family.

Disease. Beveridge felt that better provision of non means tested health care by state funding should be comprehensive and available to everyone. This would improve the nation’s health and make people more able to get back into work and less dependent on the welfare system.

Ignorance. This would be dealt with by a universal and compulsory state education system, particularly through provision of state funding with everyone able to have secondary education. This would improve the chances of the country, giving a better future for all.

Squalor. Better housing and social environment improvements would provide subsistence and help the country become united for future prosperity, with the development of affordable homes as council houses for rent. This would also make jobs for the nation before and after the war through a building program.

Idleness. Beveridge did not want what happened in the 1930s (mass unemployment) to be repeated again. This increased poverty and made some people become idle and brought back the problems of anti-social behaviour. He wanted more involvement from Government to create jobs and building programs to get the country to work, which would be self generating for prosperity.

Beveridge’s report covered these 5 giant evils and aimed to address them. He proposed that the welfare state should focus on key points of; being comprehensive, universal for all, non means tested, compulsory for everyone, and funded through insurance type payments. The key points of his report guided changes in Government legislation in the following years, with huge significance for the country.

Under Churchill, the Government moved on the Beveridge report with the undertaking of the Town and Country Planning Act (1943). The country needed to be rebuilt and this would go some way towards removing Squalor, but it wasn’t until 1946 until most of Beveridge’s ideas of tackling this problem were undertaken by a Labour Government under Clement Attlee. Between 1946 and 1949, Housing Acts gave financial support to local authorities for rebuilding after the war. Between 1945 and 1951 1.25 million new council affordable homes were constructed. A Rent Control Act also came in in 1946 which would stop landlords increasing rents or providing shoddy housing; it also gave tenants the right to inform on unscrupulous landlords. Under this Act the councils could build new towns in the country and in 1949 Countryside Act, people had the right to roam, which in turn kept them fit and healthy.

At much the same time, the Education Act (1944) was passed. This Act raised the school leaving age to 15 which later increased to 16. This could not be put into place as the Conservative Government had no way of funding it. When Labour came into power in 1947 the Act was passed and paid for by the state. This was a time of change and Labour started a nationalisation program to bring the country more in line with socialist ideas, being able to bring profits by other means than taxing heavily and creating a fairer society. In 1948 they introduced the Employment and Training Act which would tackle two of Beveridge’s problems, Idleness and Ignorance, making people go into work schemes, creating a skilled workforce for a better future. This was aimed at areas such as South Wales and the North East where there was high unemployment. This would make people feel part of the new ideas and make it hard for them to expect handouts.

In 1945 the family allowance came into effect. This meant all those who had children would receive help from the state; this would be a universal benefit which would not be means tested which would make everyone feel it was comprehensive for all.

In 1946 the National Insurance Act tackled the problems of the poor and Beveridge’s evil of Want. If someone became unemployed they would receive benefits to provide a minimum standard of living; this was also available to pregnant women and helped to fund old aged pensions. This also covered the sick and provided a comprehensive policy to solve the social problems from the cradle to the grave. To protect people from injuries at work, another act came into force, the Industrial Injuries Act (1946) which made employers take more care of the workers so they didn’t claim compensation. In 1948 the National Assistance Act protected the poorest in society and this was the final nail that abolished the poor law. To fund this, everyone working and employers would pay into the scheme; this was compulsory and universal for all.

The jewel in the crown for a more fair society in tackling Disease was the 1946 National Health Service. This provided free comprehensive health care, universal and regardless of means. This was put into place by Aneurin Bevan in 1948 under Labour. By 1949 187 million people had received prescriptions and another 8.5 million had free dental care which was very expensive for the country. By 1951 some services had to be paid for by its users to help fund the NHS but in general it still provided free health care for all while, in most cases, not being means tested.

Beveridge’s ideas had now been introduced into society, with many changes since their introduction, but in general they accomplished their aims. They would provide a comprehensive package to all from cradle to grave. Benefits would be universal, regardless of means. They would be funded by the people for the people by insurance based payments. It would be compulsory for all to pay a flat rate payment and would provide subsistence to those living below the poverty line. Even those who were above this line would receive universal non-means tested benefits.

References:

Spicker, P (Unknown): UK Social Policy: Available. An Introduction to Social Policy; www.rgu.ac.uk/publicpolicy ; Last accessed 14/10/2010

Bloy, M (2002): Workhouses and the Poor Law: Available. The Victorian Web; www.victorianweb.org; Last accessed 14/10/2010

Driver, F (1993): Power and Pauperism: Available. Spartacus Schoolnet; www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Lpoor1834.htm ; Accessed 14/10/2010

Sutton Pocket Histories: Class Handout Social Welfare 2010

Ensor, R (1980): England 1870 – 1914: Book Club Associates London; chapter 14; p 515


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