Sunday, July 3, 2011

“The Welfare state was not born it evolved”. How far do you agree with this interpretation with reference to welfare development between 1834 and 1951?

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“The Welfare state was not born it evolved”. How far do you agree with this interpretation with reference to welfare development between 184 and 151?

It would not be correct to say that the Labour welfare reforms merely evolved or continued on from past Liberal policies, they may have developed Liberal ideas to some extent but to a drastic extent in which case you might conclude that the enormity of them and freshness tends to put across the idea that they were born. In the Labour manifesto they claim to create “a tremendous overhaul, a great programme of modernisation…of it homes, its factories and machinery, its schools and social services”. To some extent they achieved this though they still fell back on any Liberal inadequacies and kept the traditional class divide. In determining how radical the reforms were it is important to review how they tackled and approached Beveridge’s five Giants. Want, Disease, Ignorance, Idleness and Squalor compared to the Liberals tackling these problems previously to see how dynamic and new the reforms really were, to see whether they were born. Beveridge believed these Giants needed to be destroyed in order to “enable a man to live his life without fear of poverty or family disaster”.

Labour were reasonably revolutionary when tackling the giant of “want” with insurance, it is true that the idea of insurance dates back to the liberal National Insurance Act of 111 yet, whilst this Act was a huge progression in recognising the need of people unable to work due to illness, it failed to provide benefits for their family in times of hardship. A wife would have no government aid after her husband’s death. A man’s children would receive no benefit at the loss or illness of a father. Whilst insurance was made available for the individual workingman, it was not universal. Also, the amount of money made available was one at absolute minimum and if the insured was ill for more than 6 weeks, this halved. Whilst going some way to eliminate the stigma attached to the man who could not provide, “there was a government acknowledgement that people are only entitled as long as they work and they can work.” In essence, the Act seems to be an intentional way of protecting only the workforce in absolutely desperate times, whilst encouraging them to return to work as soon as possible by providing only a minimum and decreasing amount of money. Those ill after 6 weeks seem to be less important to state interest therefore less deserving of financial assistance. “The benefits offered in 111 were deliberately set low to discourage malingering…not intended to provide more than a lifebelt of security. ”

Labour’s reforms were wholly different and new in insurance and benefit provisions. “The new scheme derived from Beveridge in its essential character, its comprehensiveness covering the whole population and all risks from cradle to the grave”. As opposed to 111’s specific protection of usually capable workingmen to aid imperialism, here was recognition of the deserved British people universally to suit all needs. The difference lay in the recognition of the need to abolish the 184 Poor Laws unlike the Liberal Party in 111 who chose merely to amend them. Here lay a notion of a new ideal, “the natural justice of universalism where everyone was treated on the same way.” Thus, here was an attempt to alleviate Beveridge’s evil of ‘want’. Here is a clear distinction between the Acts of the Liberal Party and the Labour Party but also the thought behind the Acts is manifestly different. Beveridge clearly intended to establish suitable protection for the entire nation due to the fact that he felt the entire nation deserved it and that the government had a duty to provide.

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The Family Allowances Act 145 acknowledged the responsibility of the state to intervene in to the private life of the family without attaching the stigma of poverty with families receiving state aid. “Popular resentment of the Poor Law and confirms that the terms on which the community renders help is as important as the help itself.” Therefore, the way in which the community receives and is encouraged to perceive help is important because this determines their willingness to receive benefits from the state .The stigma of help was abolished by Labour and no longer seen as negative (as it provided to all with two or more children without the means test). However, the labour party did not truly break the links with their past with their insurance welfare. They still retained a class-based approach to welfare and still did not provide an optimum standard of living, only a minimum ‘safety-net’ approach that the Liberals claimed to provide. They had not eradicated this ‘safety-net’ approach completely as National Assistance, replacing the UAB, provided supplementary benefits on a means-tested basis for the very poor and so there was still some class distinctions in the new universalism as this system can be traced back to the outdoor relief of the 1th century. There was also extreme cautions around the acts , the state was not to discourage individual enterprise (or ‘thrift’ as the Victorians called it) and benefits were only to provide the emphasised minimum ,not optimum standard for all showing that liberal ideas still underpinned the adopted ideas of Beveridge.

In terms of the welfare provisions set up to tackle the giant of ‘disease’, the Labour government put into practice rather radical organisations of health that catered universally for the whole population, suggesting their reforms were born. It is true that there had been much free health care provision by local Boards Of Guardians in the 1880’s but these services were inconsistent and sporadic. The Liberals did develop or “evolve” this idea at the beginning of the century by introducing the school medical service in 107 providing the basic, minimum healthcare for children and those few who could afford to take out insurance to receive it in times of illness or injury. This insurance however, did not cover the whole family, it was not universal. Furthermore, these developments merely tended to be ‘ad hoc’ improvements or knee jerk reactions to the problems that faced the government, such as the Boer war which exposed the appalling health of citizens (as many were not fit to fight and this hindered their efficiency). It could be seen that Labour ‘evolved’ these ideas of National Health Service as they built on already existing institutions such as the emergency hospitals but if they merely developed these, they were radical developments. Labour bore a comprehensive health and rehabilitation service. It encompassed all citizens through a tripartite structure of administrations involving hospitals, medical and local authority health and welfare services. Local authority and voluntary hospitals were nationalised and put in control of twenty regional hospital bonds. A Children Act was passed in 148 that took care of deprived children and established a family environment for children in care. Furthermore expectant mothers received the free treatment of a doctor. Vaccination, immunisation, maternity, childcare, domestic help, home nursing and ambulances were made available to each citizen, not just the dependants. As Bevan puts it “(the British nation) becomes more wholesome, more secure ..if its citizens have at the back of their consciousness’ the knowledge their fellows have access to all the best treatment medical skill can provide” . This could be seen as mere rhetoric but the fact remains that the Labour Party implemented some rather radical ideas. The fact the NHS provided healthcare for all, not just the dependants, nor priority workers (as the Liberals had done for soldiers, as the war time coalition had done) it appears that unlike the Liberals gradual improvements to the state through implementing welfare, Labour bore a new, revolutionary universalism that was not merely concerned with national efficiency. However, despite all this private health care continued as it does today, Labour were not revolutionary enough to eradicate class divide and there still remained a conflict between the quality of free healthcare and private.

Beveridge said that “ignorance is an evil weed that must be uprooted and destroyed” and in responding to it through education, great developments were born out of Labour reforms. This began with the 144 education act which provided free education for all children and in 147 the school leaving age was raised to 15. The acts passed in Education clearly elaborate the full force of Labours universalism. The intention being that finance should no longer remain a barrier between children and education, rather talent alone should help children strive to become better educated in practice. This is exemplified by the 11+ exams that in theory allowed every child to enter grammar school and go to university or face the promising alternative of a secondary modern which would also teach important skills. Derek Fraser elaborates on this dramatic change saying “this policy was a brave attempt to create some system in English education after decades of mere pragmatic evolution”. However, despite these radical ideas it is true that the education system was still selective in practice. Class distinctions took place; a working class child still faced major obstacles. Teachers favoured the ‘better to do’ children and finance still held the working class back from elementary schools. Furthermore, more money was invested in grammar schools than secondary moderns, meaning that the great idea of universalism did not in fact take place, rather a two -tier system of existing classes developed. Although the reforms represented a fresh approach to education and great steps were made, the traditional idea of the working class being the inferior race remained. Furthermore, it is true that the Liberals implemented similar ideas about education to Labour. In 118 an act was passed to increase school leaving age to 14, showing some continuation and development on past ideas. Furthermore, there was abolition on all school fees in elementary school, paving the ground for free education and half-time schooling was abolished showing the current of encouragement for children to remain in school and finally government grants were made to local authorities and teachers wages were increased thus showing the evolving awareness of the importance of school and education.

Housing seeming to tackle the giant of Squalor seems to have been a key feature of both the Liberal and the labour parties reforms. Housing could be seen to have been evolutionary in the way the governments developed and increased their concerns over the widespread slums and poverty of the working class. This concern was apparent in the 118 Tudor waters Report which stated that the working classes could never afford to live in a good quality private houses. There seems to have been a growing realisation which is confirmed by the Addison act in 11 which implemented new housing and planning. The issue of housing was left both to private owners and local authorities who were provided with subsidies if they became house builders. The first Labour Government developed this increasing the subsidies from £5 to £. Further acts to control overcrowding in houses and slum clearance were implemented between 10 and 1 such as the 15 housing act which made it a penal offence for local authorities to allow overcrowding and to stoop below minimum standards in the quality of their houses. This does seem quite evolutionary, however housing really depended on the socio-economic circumstances at the time, relying on sporadic movements which forced Government to better the working classes living conditions such as, the 1ww which exploited the terrible homes the soldiers were returning to after war in their “homes fit for heroes” and the ww in which the bombs destroyed terrible slums and they had to be replaced by temporary / better buildings either which were a cut above the slums.

In conclusion it is true that many of the Labour Welfare reforms developed out of early Liberal ideas but it is dangerous to fall into the trap of abusing hindsight and seeing the reforms as a gradual development or evolution. The Labour reforms may have been slightly influenced by past Liberal ideas but the enormity of improvements they made to education, insurance etc were great strides in welfare policy and must have been viewed as been born out of nothing at the time. I do believe that the welfare reforms were revolutionary especially in such cases as Education, it was a remarkable change to go from limited education to the idea of opportunities for all. On the other hand, there is question as to whether a welfare state was established at all. If the definition of a welfare state it the optimum standards provided for all, then private education, welfare, health and means tested relief makes ours and labours welfare state non existent. It could be said that the Welfare state was not born, nor did it evolve as it never existed.

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