The Welfare State

Welfare is the name given to benefits that people can receive to help ensure that they can achieve a minimum standard of living. The origins of the Welfare State in the United Kingdom go back to Elizabethan times. The introduction of the Poor Laws was the first legislative attempt to ensure that the poor had the means to live. This method continued until the Industrial Revolution, when provision for the poor changed. This introduced things such as the Workhouse. See the Public Health section for further details of pre-twentieth century welfare provision.

Welfare State.

The Welfare State in it’s modern form began with the introduction of reforms between 1906 and 1914 by the Liberal Government. These reforms included the introduction of National Insurance, Old Age Pensions and Free School Meals. The Second World War then led to the development of welfare legislation designed to ensure that everybody in the United Kingdom had access to quality healthcare. This resulted in the introduction of the National Health Service and a range of health education and disease prevention measures being introduced in post war Britain.

Why was Welfare legislation introduced?

Several factors have led to the introduction of welfare legislation over the years. The extension of the right to vote resulted in a political need to cater for the working classes, which led to reform in the 19th and early 20th centuries.Individuals who researched conditions for the poor led to pressure for change. Examples of this include the work of Edwin Chadwick during the 19th century and of Margaret McMillan in the early 20th century. War has also played a role, in a number of ways. Firstly, it was recognised that recruits needed to be fit and healthy, this hadn’t been the case during the Boer War (1890’s), the sacrifice made by the country in the two world wars also led to an increased desire for the whole population to have a better standard of living. This is typified by the statement, ‘A country fit for heroes’ which accompanied post world war 2 legislation.

What opposition was there to Welfare legislation?

There has always been opposition to welfare provision, and there still is today. The arguments against it vary. Politicians from the right wing have talked about the creation of a nanny state, which implies that welfare provision does too much for people. There have been criticisms of the amount of money that welfare provision costs (in the UK welfare provision expenditure is roughly 20% of national income). There have also been arguments from some branches of Christianity that involuntary payments towards welfare isn’t virtuous (ie, people should be charitable because they want to, rather than because the taxman says they have to).

In recent times the Welfare State has been criticised for the amount of administrative costs associated with it, and the way in which people who have not contributed to the system can benefit from it.

How does the Welfare State work today?

Welfare provision in the UK today includes:

  1. Free School Meals provision
  2. Free point of access medical care
  3. Health education
  4. Unemployment benefits
  5. Sick Pay
  6. Maternity Pay
  7. Disability allowances

Note – there are many other benefits available in the UK, this simply provides an indication of the sorts of things that Welfare legislation provides for at the moment.

Schoolshistory home – History teachers resources – Medical History Timelines – Liberal Reforms – Welfare State – The NHS – Alexander Fleming – Florey and Chain develop Penicillin – DNA and it’s impact on modern medicine