In what ways has the welfare state changed since its creation in the 1940s?
This essay explores ways in which the welfare state has changed since its creation in the 1940s. It begins by establishing the ideas and ideologies that surrounded its creation, including the influence of social democratic ideals and further assesses the ways in which its functions and purposes have changed from the 1940s to present day. The essay contrasts these changes in the provision of state welfare by dividing the timescale into the two significant transformations of the periods between the 1940's - 1980s and from the 1980s to present, including how liberalism influenced the changes that occurred during the second transformation. This essay will explore what changed, how it changed and why it changed.
In the period between the First and Second World Wars Britain was characterised by insecurities, conflicts and disorder. Economic depression had created mass unemployment, poverty and a reduction in benefits to the masses. What resulted were strikes, demonstrations and general unrest among the working classes. The state used coercive powers to keep order and a market ideology was used to justify insecurity and inequality. There were criticisms of the legacies of the Poor Law, the indignities of means-tested payments and a fear among the old and impoverished of perhaps ending their life in the workhouse.
It was not until after the Second World War that the British welfare state took on a more mature form. In a climate of relief after the war, one that was diffused with idealism for a new, more just society, welfare provision and legislation had bipartisan support and there existed a clear sense of rebuilding a better Britain. The Labour governments landslide victory in 1945 was very much about creating a new deal for the `boys back from the front', giving them a sense that their country had been worth fighting for and would support and care for them in peacetime by offering them and their families the opportunities for jobs, homes, education, health and a standard of living of which they could be proud. New forms of ordering emerged based on job security, Keynesian economic policies and improved welfare rights.
The architect of much of this reform was William Beveridge. In his report, Beveridge set out a plan to end what he called the `five giants' - poverty, disease, ignorance, squalor and unemployment. His report advocated the welfare state as a means of reducing inequality and providing security and well-being for its citizens `from cradle to grave'.
The welfare state established an extensive programme of welfare provision and increased security in the years following the Second World War and a `Golden Age' appeared based on rising welfare expenditure and a reduction in levels of poverty during this time. These changes in welfare and security were directly associated with the political ideology of Social Democracy, the...