The British Welfare State Essay

2876 words - 12 pages

The idea behind the welfare state was to relieve poverty, reduce inequality, and achieve greater
social integration and solidarity, and in Britain these aims were sorely wanted after world war two .

This desire for the welfare state was rooted in many causes. To fully understand these cause we have to start out not at the 1941 beginnings of the large scale welfare state but to 1598.

One of the main motivating factors behind this desire towards a welfare state was the universal hatred of the so called "Poor laws." These were a series of laws governing aid (feeding, education, and health) to the poorest of society. The first passed in 1598 and not until 1948 did the last one of them get eliminated. The basic idea behind these laws was that for someone who was able bodied to be eligible for help he would have to be declared a pauper and would have to work in a workhouse where he would receive the most elementary and basic rations for his labors. The old and the sick may receive state help without having to work, but even they had to live in a poor house to be able to receive rations. The rights of paupers were substantially less then a "normal" citizens . They couldn't vote, they were not to be hired unless all other sources of labor were exhausted (Thus preventing them from lifting themselves out of absolute poverty and rejoining society), and were not allowed to move freely (like feudal serfs, some towns even branded their paupers). In addition the psychological and emotional stigma of being demoted to the lowest caste (pauper) in an England where class counted for everything must have been terrible. And the workhouses where they were forced to stay and work usually had quite appalling living conditions: in 1845, there was a scandal at Andover Workhouse, where starving paupers were found to be chewing the gristle of bones they were supposed to be crushing. A lot of people committed petty crimes so that they would be deported to the colonies as convicts rather then go to these poor houses, as that still offered more hope of a better future. Free health care was also subordinated to these poor laws, with a person having to be declared a pauper to be able to receive it at an infirmary. So while there was a form of welfare that could be used as a last resort under the poor laws a person had to give up a lot of his rights, his social status, and his hope of a better future to be able to partake in this rudimentary and most basic form of welfare. The importance of these poor laws on the future lay in the fact of how repulsive they were and how the working classed revulsion of these laws led to them demanding a much fairer system.

Until 1905 this was the only form of welfare available. But in 1906 a Liberal government came to power and decided that a larger section of society and not just the extreme poor were in need of public services. An important social survey was carried out and the results were quite bleak. It showed that a...

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