George R. Boyer

Jan 28, 2019

The Winding Road to the Welfare State

Economic Insecurity and Social Welfare Policy in Britain

Princeton University Press 2019

purchase at bookshop.org The creation of the postwar welfare state in Great Britain did not represent the logical progression of governmental policy over a period of generations. As George R. Boyer details in The Winding Road to the Welfare State: Economic Insecurity and Social Welfare Policy in Britain (Princeton University Press, 2019), it only emerged after decades of different legislative responses to the problems of poverty that reflected shifting societal attitudes on the subject. As Boyer explains, welfare policy in the early 19th century primarily consisted of cash or in-kind payments provided for people living in their homes. This changed with the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, which replaced it with the infamous workhouse system. Though this brought down expenditures on the poor, the expectation that poverty was being reduced was belied by a series of reports at the end of the century which exposed the extent of urban poverty to a shocked nation. In response, the Liberal governments of the early 20th century passed a series of laws that established unemployment insurance and pensions for the elderly. While these expanded considerably the role of the state in providing for the poor, Boyer demonstrates that they fell well short of a comprehensive system, one which William Beveridge detailed in a famous 1942 report that served as the blueprint for the legislation passed by the Labour government after the Second World War.

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