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Inequalities today, Tony Blair's project photo

Inequalities in Britain today

Tony Blair’s Project (1997-2007)

In its 1997 General Election Manifesto, entitled New Labour: Because Britain Deserves Better, ‘New’ Labour laid out its case to the electors :

I want a Britain that is one nation, with shared values and purpose, where merit comes before privilege, run for the many not the few …(p. 1)
We are a broad-based movement for progress and justice. New Labour is the political arm of none other than the British people as a whole. Our values are the same : the equal worth of all, with no one cast aside … (p. 2)

We will make education our number one priority … (p. 6)
We will promote personal prosperity for all … (p. 10)
We will get the unemployed from welfare to work … (p. 18)
We will save the NHS ,.. (p. 20)
We will be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime …(p. 22)
We will strengthen family life .,. (p. 24)

This programme seemed to strike a chord among electors after 18 years of Conservative Government and the Labour Party was swept into office. In 2001, once again the Labour Party laid out its plans for a second term in its Manifesto entitled New Labour New Britain- Ambitions for Britain.

My passion is to continue the modernisation of Britain in favour of hard-working families, so that all our children, wherever they live, whatever their background, have an equal chance to benefit from the opportunities our country has to offer and to share in its wealth… (p. 3)

Britain is better off than in 1997 – but our ambition is to widen the winners’ circle so more people share in the benefits of economic growth… (p. 13)

The whole country depends on high-quality public services. We have a ten-year vision for Britain’s public services : record improvement to match record investment, so they deliver high standards to all the people… (p. 17)

Once again Labour obtained a very large majority of seats in the House of Commons. But what specifically have the two Labour governments led by Tony Blair managed to achieve?

  • The introduction of a minimum wage
  • A significant reduction in unemployment
  • A strong economy
  • The ‘solid’ foundations of change in the consideration of the public services, especially education and the NHS.

In 1999, the Government published Opportunity For All: Tackling Poverty and Social Exclusion (Cm 4445) :

When we came into office, we inherited a country where one in five children lived in a household where no one worked, thousands left school without basic skills… For many people, the past two decades have brought rising prosperity and widening opportunities.

But far too many individuals, families and communities have not shared in the benefits of economic growth. And for many, disadvantage has been passed from generation to generation as children inherit poverty from their parents … it is that injustice and waste that the Government is determined to tackle…

In particular, the Prime Minister has set out our aims of eradicating child poverty within 20 years, of confronting the waste of long-term unemployment, and of bringing deprived neighbourhoods up to the standards that the rest of Britain takes for granted – cutting crime, increasing employment, improving health and housing.

In June 2001, just after the Labour victory, Chancellor Gordon Brown vowed that no child should be left behind as he sought to tackle the question of deprivation among the 3.2m British children living below the poverty line.

He claimed that during the first Labour period of office, 1m children had been lifted above the poverty line: the aim was to lift a further 1m above the line by 2005. (Source)

In April 2002, new figures undermined Labour’s boasts at having already achieved the success mentioned above: the real figure should, according to official figures, be nearer half a million and not 1m. (Source)

At the budget in April 2002, the Labour Government increased National Insurance contributions and also increased investment in the NHS.

Gordon Brown (2007-2010)

During his Labour leadership campaign, Brown proposed some policy initiatives which he called “the manifesto for change”.

The manifesto included a clampdown on corruption and a new Ministerial Code, which set out clear standards of behaviour for ministers. Brown also stated in a speech when announcing his bid that he wants a “better constitution” that is “clear about the rights and responsibilities of being a citizen in Britain today”.

He planned to set up an all-party convention to look at new powers for Parliament and to look at rebalancing powers between Whitehall and local government. Brown said he would give Parliament the final say on whether British troops are sent into action in future.

Brown said he wanted to release more land and ease access to ownership with shared equity schemes. He backed a proposal to build new eco-towns, each housing between 10,000 and 20,000 home-owners – up to 100,000 new homes in total.

Brown also said he wanted to have doctors’ surgeries open at the weekends, and GPs on call in the evenings. Doctors were given the right of opting out of out-of-hours care in 2007, under a controversial pay deal, signed by then-Health Secretary John Reid, which awarded them a 22 percent pay rise in 2006. Brown also stated in the manifesto that the NHS was his top priority.

On 5 June 2007, just three weeks before he was due to take the post of Prime Minister, Brown made a speech promising “British Jobs for British workers”. Brown reiterated that promise at the Labour Party’s annual conference in September, which caused controversy as he coupled this with a commitment to crack down on migrant workers.

The Conservative Party, led by David Cameron, promptly pointed out that such a commitment was illegal under EU law.

David Cameron (2010-2016)

In response to the Great Recession, Cameron undertook the austerity programme. This was a deficit-reduction programme consisting of sustained reductions in public spending, intended to reduce the government budget deficit and the welfare state in the United Kingdom. The National Health Service and education have been “ringfenced” and protected from direct spending cuts.

Together with Chancellor George Osborne, Cameron aimed to eliminate the structural deficit (i.e. deficit on current spending as opposed to investment) and to have government debt falling as a percentage of GDP. By 2015 the deficit, as a percentage of GDP, had been reduced to half of what it was in 2010, and the sale of government assets (mostly the shares of banks nationalised in the 2000s) had resulted in government debt as a proportion of GDP falling.

In 2006 Cameron described poverty as a “moral disgrace” and also promised to tackle relative poverty. In 2007 Cameron promised, “We can make British poverty history, and we will make British poverty history”. Also in 2007, he stated “Ending child poverty is central to improving child well-being”.

The Cameron government plans welfare cuts which official government advisors warn are set to increase child poverty. The Children’s Commissioner expects the number of children in poverty to rise by roughly one million over five years.

Polly Toynbee claimed in The Guardian that reductions in child tax credits were likely to increase child poverty among working families with low wages. Anna Feuchtwang of the National Children’s Bureau claims too little was done to implement the Conservative manifesto promise to give every child the best start in life.

Gareth Jenkins of Save the Children fears the effect cuts will have on life chances of children in poor families, saying “Our biggest concern would be that increases in financial hardship for the poorest working families will only further worsen the chances of their children to do well at school and escape the circumstances they were born into – a key goal of the Conservative government.”

In 2015, George Eaton writing in the New Statesman claimed the two-year freeze in working-age benefits by the Cameron government will increase poverty among wage earners. He claimed that removal of housing benefit for those between 18 and 25, reductions in housing benefit for people with spare bedrooms, caps on housing benefit and other changes will further add to poverty and homelessness.

The July 2015 budget under the Cameron government reduced funds to help disabled people find work. For example, Jamie McCormack, who is deaf and physically disabled, wrote in The Independent that removing specialist advisers from job centres and ending of funding for tailored support reduced his work opportunities.

He also believes ending student maintenance grants prevents him from going to university. According to him and Anoosh Chakelian of the New Statesman, removal of ‘the disability element of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)’ will cause stress and hardship to many disabled people.

Under Cameron’s leadership, poverty is no longer classified by a family’s income, but as to whether a family is in work or not. Considering that two-thirds of people who found work were accepting wages that are below the living wage (according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation), this has been criticised by anti-poverty campaigners as an unrealistic view of poverty in Britain today.

Theresa May (2016-2019)

May has identified herself with the one-nation Conservative position within her party.

During her leadership campaign, May said that “We need an economy that works for everyone”, pledging to crack down on executive pay by making shareholders’ votes binding rather than advisory and to put workers onto company boards (although she later claimed that the last pledge was not to be mandatory), policies that The Guardian describes as going further than the Labour Party’s 2015 general election manifesto.

After she became Prime Minister, May’s first speech espoused the left, with a promise to combat the “burning injustice” in British society and to create a union “between all of our citizens” and promising to be an advocate for the “ordinary working-class family” and not for the affluent in the UK :

“The government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few but by yours. We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives … When we take the big calls, we’ll think not of the powerful, but you. When we pass new laws we’ll listen not to the mighty, but to you. When it comes to taxes we’ll prioritise not the wealthy but you.”

The Thatcher Years : the individual and society photo

The Thatcher Years : the individual and society

The first priority for the Thatcher Government in 1979 was the economy and the enterprise culture. Changes were proposed to decrease direct taxation (i.e. income tax) and increase indirect taxation (i.e. VAT).

The Government also began a policy of privatisation and proposed to sell-off council houses to their tenants. A prime objective was to reduce the inflation rate which had peaked briefly over a three month period in 1976 at the equivalent rate of 27% per annum.

It seemed the Government was keen to reduce the power of Local Authorities, which were often Labour, especially in the big conurbations, and increase the power of central government.

Mrs Margaret Thatcher had a clear notion of the relationship between the individual and society :

There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then to look after our neighbour.

– M. Thatcher, Woman’s Own, October 31, 1987

and later on :

I was an individualist in the sense that individuals are ultimately accountable for their actions and must behave like it. But I always refused to accept that there was some kind of conflict between this kind of individualism and social responsibility. I was reinforced in this view by the writings of conservative thinkers in the United States on the growth of an ‘underclass’ and the development of a dependency culture. If irresponsible behaviour does not involve penalty of some kind, irresponsibility will for a large number of people become the norm. More important still, the attitudes may be passed on to their children, setting them off in the wrong direction.

I had great regard for the Victorians for many reasons – not least their civic spirit to which the increase in voluntary and charitable societies and the great buildings and endowments of our cities pay eloquent tribute. I never felt uneasy about praising ‘Victorian values’ or – the phrase I originally used – ‘Victorian virtues’, not least because they were by no means just Victorian. But the Victorians also had away of talking which summed up what we were now rediscovering – they distinguished between the ‘deserving’ and the ‘undeserving poor’. Both groups should be given help : but it must be help of very different kinds if public spending is not just going to reinforce the dependency culture. The problem with our welfare state was that – perhaps to some degree inevitably we had failed to remember that distinction and so we provided the same ‘help’ to those who had genuinely fallen into difficulties and needed some support till they could get out of them, as to those who had simply lost the will or habit of work and self-improvement. The purpose of help must not be to allow people merely to live a half-life, but to restore their self-discipline and through that their self-esteem.

I was also impressed by the writing of the American theologian and social scientist Michael Novak who put into new and striking language what I had always believed about individuals and communities. Mr Novak stressed the fact that what he called ‘democratic capitalism’ was a moral and social, not just an economic system, that it encouraged a range of virtues and that it depended upon co-operation not just ‘going it alone’. These were important insights which, along with our thinking about the effects of the dependency culture, provided the intellectual basis for my approach to those great questions brought together in political parlance as ‘the quality of life’.

– M. Thatcher, The Downing Street Years, 1995

The reinforcement of central government can be seen in the Conservative Government’s approach to urban policy. Thornley first mentions the Labour Government’s White Paper entitled Policy For the Inner Cities (1977) which was a serious attempt to set out and understand the causes of inner city problems.

Its diagnosis was that the problem was multicausal and had to be addressed on a number of levels including economic, physical and social…

However the solutions advocated were still area located. The White Paper led to the Labour Government’s Inner Urban Areas Act (1978),which set up Partnership Areas, Programme Areas and Designated Areas.

When Thatcher came to power in 1979, two new and seemingly antithetical ideologies came to the fore : the market-led liberal ideology based on individualism and the authoritarian strong central state. “Both strands …agree on the limitation of ‘social citizenship rights’, that is the economic and welfare expectations that have built up within the Welfare State.

Therefore, previous initiatives in the field of urban planning were eliminated and replaced by policies which adhered to the two new strands. “The key features of this new approach to urban policy can be summarised as a greatly enhanced role for the private sector and a property-led approach to urban regeneration”. This follows the notion of “the culture of enterprise”.

The Enterprise Zone (EZ) idea was launched originally in 1978 : it entailed identifying certain areas “where it was hoped to attract new economic activity and removing planning regulations from them”. Another attraction was the ten year moratorium on local taxes.

The Urban Development Corporation (UDC) was launched in 1980: a number of UDCs were set up, with responsibility for fast-track regeneration in the hands of central rather than local government, and dominated by the business sector.

They were to manage and develop the Urban Development Areas (UDA). The story of Canary Wharf (Docklands) is of particular interest in this context.

The Conservative Government also introduced YTS (the Youth Training Scheme) to all those 16 and 17 year-olds not in work or education, accompanied by a subsequent withdrawal of their right to income support.

This policy showed the influence of Lord Young who had read Beveridge and concluded that the balance between favouring unemployment or employment had tilted too far towards the former. According to him, it was financially more rewarding to be unemployed than to be in low-paid jobs.

In 1988 the term “benefits culture” gained widespread use. This right-wing idea was contested by others who pointed out that the UK was becoming a more unequal society and the institute of Fiscal Studies showed that the single unemployed were worse off in real terms in 1989 than in 1979.

Nevertheless, the Conservative Government set out, through YTS, a new adult training programme, an extension of the period during which people quitting their job lose benefits and the introduction of the new social fund, whose aim was to introduce discretionary loans rather than mandatory grants for the special needs of people on supplementary benefit, to reduce welfare dependency.

In addition, there was the influence of the so-called guru of the American right, Charles Murray, who believed the 60s Great Society in the USA and elsewhere had not improved the lot of the poor but conversely, had made it worse, by creating an underclass.

Murray, from the New York-based Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, argued that the problem of the American underclass – the unemployment, the crime and the illegitimacy that characterise American ghettos – were largely the fault of welfare programmes themselves.

The policies born of compassion and guilt were flawed. People should not be told : “It’s not your fault”. People were not owed a decent standard of living, it was something they had to work for. State welfare systems remove work incentives and undermine family and individual responsibility.

Murray’s ideas influenced Conservative thinking, just as the ideas of Hayek and Friedman had influenced Mrs Thatcher. It was David Willetts, Director of Studies at the Conservative Centre for Policy Studies, who propagated Murray’s ideas in Britain.

In March 1987, Willetts invited Murray to a seminar with representatives of the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS), the Treasury and N°10.

This seminar was instrumental in shifting the emphasis of thinking away from the old agenda of integrating tax and benefits and towards the new American agenda, with a questioning of the notion of welfare dependency and how much it is right to spend on the poor.

Conservatives were particularly interested in “workfare”, where single mothers were obliged to work on state-run schemes in order to qualify for benefits. The proposals concerning YTS were a step in this direction.

The proposed adult training programme was also a move in this direction. Professor Patrick Minford, another monetarist, believed the scheme should be compulsory and that the Government should admit that their aim was to drive down wages.

The social fund replaced existing grants to those on benefits, to cover purchases of a cooker or furniture, by discretionary loans, repayable from benefits. The social fund represented an attempt to devise a system to offer limited help for the poor while not exacerbating what was seen as their main problem, dependency.

Loans would teach the poor the value of budgeting, and the discretionary factor sent out a clear signal that money was limited, with an end to the notion of “rights” and “entitlement”.

John Redwood, a right-wing Conservative MP, felt that these measures would have been unthinkable in the early 80s, seen as tough in the mid-80s, but accepted as common sense in the late 80s. Mrs Thatcher constantly wished to cut back on overspending, especially overspending (Labour) Local Authorities.

She accused such Authorities of taxing local inhabitants and local firms to excess, with a subsequent damaging effect on employment.

It might be imagined that the devastating effect of such policies of overspending on employment would discourage Labour authorities from such action. But I never forgot that the unspoken objective of socialism – municipal or national – was to increase dependency. Poverty was not just the breeding ground of socialism : it was the deliberately engineered effect of it.

– M. Thatcher, The Downing Street Years, 1995

– M. Thatcher, The Downing Street Years, 1995

She, therefore, believed that the only way to reduce or indeed limit poverty was through the elimination of the dependency culture. As regards the NHS, there was little done in the early years: in the period 1975-1982, Thatcher was not particularly sure of her position as Conservative leader to plunge herself into major reforms of a national institution which was well-liked by the British public.

Also, Thatcher was by no means a specialist on health matters and so was unsure of the route to follow. When she eventually set about reforming the NHS she adopted the same principles she had followed in the rest of her policies.

The key idea was internal competition. In 1987, the NHS was facing a real crisis: for example, there were severe difficulties in recruiting enough nursing staff because of low pay and conditions. In 1987, Riverside Health Authority, covering central London north of the Thames, was more than 600 nurses short.

For 20 years nursing had been a buyer’s market: the NHS had been besieged by young girls eager to join. It did not matter that one in three student nurses never finished the course or that a thousand gave up as soon as they passed their examinations. There were always more recruits.

In the mid-80s however, market forces started to thin out the ranks of nurses. With the explosion in “white blouse employment” (service industries), more and more trained young women are being employed in department stores, banking, insurance offices … And in the period 1985-1987, the Government rejected the pay increases proposed by the Nurses’ Pay review Body.

The tight cash limits imposed on the public sector would be blown away if nurses were given the increase they should have received. And the private health sector in Britain, and even in the USA, is busy recruiting as many nurses in Britain as possible…

It was felt by many that the NHS had created a culture of dependency. The British Conservatives, therefore, set about transferring the emphasis from “dependence” to “independence”, by ending the “benefit culture”.

They encouraged people to make provision themselves for their own health and insurance, either through company or private cover. Personal pensions and private medicine were steps in this direction. General state welfare should be targeted at those in real need (“the safety net”), the very poorest, through a new form of the means test.

The first area to be targeted was child benefit (a benefit which had never been means-tested): it was frozen despite a 1987 General Election promise to maintain it. Means-tested family credit was expanded. Housing benefit was cut. The budget of 1988 reduced top-rate income tax from 46% to 40%, whilst at the same time reducing benefits for some poor families.

It has always been difficult to be rational and objective about the NHS: “The NHS is the closest thing the English (sic) have to a religion, with those who practise in it regarding themselves as a priesthood. ‘this made it quite extraordinarily difficult to reform” (N. Lawson – Chancellor of the Exchequer-, The View from Number Eleven, 1992).

In the 80s, Health Authorities were constantly forced to squeeze budgets because of direct budget restrictions on central government and local government expenditure. Demand was rising more quickly than the budgets (which actually were also rising but not enough to keep up with the higher demand).

Most people, if asked, would have said that the Conservative Government had reduced expenditure on the NHS. In fact, between 1979 and 1987, there was an increase of 21% in real terms.

The real problem was that demand was increasing at an unstoppable rate. In 1987 the situation in the NHS was dire. Eventually, charges for eye tests and dental check-ups were introduced. Even some wards and beds were closed down. People were encouraged to take out private health insurance to be treated more quickly.

The Centre for Policy Studies, a Conservative think-tank, suggested the introduction of an “internal market”, an idea launched initially by an American, Professor Alain Enthoven.

The money allocated for health care should follow the patient through the system, in a similar way to the new policy on education, pursued after 1988.

The new Secretary of State for health, Kenneth Clarke, suggested management by GP fund-holders: family doctors would be offered budgets within which to buy a range of services and treatments, with a limit set on the amount they could commit. Emergencies were excluded.

There was opposition from many quarters including the BMA (British Medical Association). The Government replied that they were trying to get value for money and reduce waiting lists.

Inequality and Gender photo

Inequality and Gender

Inequalities between women of different social categories are nothing new. And despite the effects of the Welfare State, there still remained a number of inequalities right into the1960’s.

In the field of abortion for example, there were those who managed to find a compliant doctor and the money to pay for the abortion and there were those who either were unable to find the means of terminating an unwanted pregnancy or who resorted to back street butchery.

The Family Planning Act was passed in 1967 and was to have a great effect on women’s lives. Abortion became more easily available : in 1968, 22,000 abortions were carried out in public hospitals ; in 1969, the number reached 31,000. The figure for single women continued to rise in the 1970’s and 1980’s : in 1971, 44,300 ; in 1990, 116,200. However, for married women, the figure actually fell slightly during the same period (1971,41,500 ; 1990, 38,200).

Young mothers have always had difficulties in returning to work, especially if they were unable to find a willing child-minder. One reason is that until the 1990’s, children usually did not go to school until the age of 5.

And child-minding was usually quite expensive as the local authorities only provided a limited number of places. This was not surprising as successive Government policies had encouraged women to remain at home to look after the children rather than to enter the workplace.

The number of births to unmarried mothers remained fairly stable from the beginning of the 20th century until the 1960’s at approximately 4% of the total of births. From the 1960’s onwards, the percentage doubled. Then followed a period of relative stability (due probably to the effects of The Family Planning Act). Later, the percentages rose (luring the 1980’s and 1990’s.

The number of marriages reached the same level in 1990 as in 1961, with admittedly a larger population of women of child-bearing age, due to the baby-boom of the 1950’s. However, the number of marriages also included an increasing number of remarriages.

From the 1970’s onwards the number of women and the percentage of women to men in the workplace began to increase. Between 1971 and 1990 3 million more women entered the world of work, reaching a figure of 12m, whereas during the same period the number of men at work increased from 15.7m to 16 million. The percentage accelerated in 1982-1983, when women represented 42% of the labour force.

This increase corresponded to an increase in part-time work, often compensating the loss of the male salary, due to redundancy. From the 1970’s onwards, more and more women were to be found in tertiary posts. In 1971, tertiary posts represented 59% of women’s jobs ; in 1990, the percentage reached 76%.

Equal pay was however not yet a reality in the 1960’s and 1970’s : in 1971, the average female wage was 57% of the average male wage. The figure reached 67% in 1981 and 68% in 1990.

The increase was particularly marked after 1975, due no doubt to the effects of the Equal Pay Act of 1970, which came into force five years later, and the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975.

The latter led to the creation of the Equal Opportunities Commission whose role was to control the implementation of the Law.

In the field of education, sexual discrimination has often been a major problem for girls and women : in 1975, 3.5% of school-girls trained to become primary or secondary school teachers, compared to 0.8% of school-boys ; however, the same year, 1975, only 4.9% of school-girls went to University whereas the figure for school-boys was 8.2% (figures from the Department of Education and Science, 1975)

Sex Discrimination Act of 1975

You can read the full transcript of the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975.

Inequality and Race photo

Inequality and Race

According to Seymour-Ure (in The Political Impact of Mass Media, 1974), the disturbances in Notting Hill in 1958 symbolised a turning point in British race relations.

Previously, immigration had been a relatively peripheral political issue; after 1958 it became one of the most important and the most sensitive.

In 1962, the Conservative Government passed the Commonwealth Immigration Act, introducing controls through a voucher system to limit the flow of West Indian and Indian sub-continent immigrants.

When the Labour Government came to power, instead of repealing the legislation, as they might have (cf. Race Relation Act, 1976 – Chapter 74) been expected to do (the Labour Party had opposed the introduction of the 1962 Act but the defeat of the Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary, Patrick Gordon-Walker at the 1964 General Election in the Midlands constituency of Smethwick, with a large percentage of “immigrants”, was a sign that Labour had to tread softly on this issue), they in fact tightened by the Act in 1965 by limiting the number of vouchers still further.

In the mid-1960s, a growing number of Kenyan Asians were settling in Britain. The Labour Government then passed the 1968 Commonwealth Immigrants Act, stopping “coloured” immigration, though with a voucher scheme for Kenyan Asians.

According to Dubourdieu (in Les Années Wilson 1964-1970, 1998), “the 1965 Race Relations Bill was intended to outlaw discrimination for reasons of ‘colour, race, or ethnic or national origins’ in ‘places of public resort’.

It did not stop it in the vital fields of employment or housing, or indeed in the commercial or personal services. It also intended to stop incitement to racial hatred”.

The 1965 Act outlawed the “colour bar” and set up a Race Relations Board as a (toothless) watch-dog, under Mark Bonham Carter. In the following years, the government consulted widely before introducing further legislation to try and reduce persistent discrimination and to extend the scope of the Act.

This culminated in the 1968 Race Relations Act which led to the end of overt racial discrimination in advertisements and business practices. The numerous exemptions in the Act nevertheless watered down its effect. A number of bodies were created, including the Community Relations Commission.

In April 1968, just before the Second Reading of the Bill, Enoch Powell, Shadow Minister and Conservative MP for Wolverhampton, a Midlands town with a large immigrant population, made an inflammatory speech, since referred to as the ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech.

Powell had stood for the leadership of the Conservative Party in 1964, but after only polling 15 votes among Tory MP’s, he took an increasingly idiosyncratic line within his party.

In the latter part of 1967, he made a number of anti-immigration speeches including evoking the question of repatriation. The Birmingham speech of April 20th 1968 was perhaps the most infamous.

Despite the popular support Powell seemed to have among some sectors of the community at large, the Conservative Party leaders disowned themselves from such inflammatory language.

The 1968 Race Relations Bill was passed with a 104 majority. This piece of legislation was the 1976 Race Relations Act, also passed by a Labour Government.

In 1981, street violence in Britain’s inner-cities led to the setting-up of the Scarman Report. As well as looking into the street violence itself, the Report investigated questions concerning race relations in Britain…

Brixton riots: Monday April 13, 1981

On Friday afternoon, a police patrol in Brixton stopped to help a black youth who had been stabbed in the back.

The incident marked the beginning of a build-up of police strength and a confrontation began which erupted into violence on Saturday afternoon when a black youth was arrested outside a minicab office.

Police and firemen, called to deal with fires started by Molotov cocktails, came under barrages of missiles. Cars and buildings burned and shops were looted as the battle raged.

Lindsay Mackie and Mike Phillips trace the sequence of events which led to what a Methodist minister described as a “fireball of anger”.

The build-up of tension which exploded on Saturday evening in the heart of Brixton began on Friday afternoon, when a police car patrol spotted a young black wandering along Railton Road with a stab wound in his back.

The police officers approached the man, intending to take him to hospital. An ambulance was called and police were bandaging the youth in the car when a group of young blacks attacked it.

The ambulance arrived and the injured youth was taken to hospital. A second police car arrived as a crowd of black youths was building up. Bottles were thrown through the police vehicles’ windscreens.

This incident ended when police reinforcements arrived, but the build-up of police patrols in the area continued through the rest of the night and into Saturday.

One white woman who lives in Spenser Road said that when she returned home on Friday evening at 6pm, Dulwich Road, parallel to Railton Road, was “filled with police and sirens and vehicles. There were so many I thought they were on some sort of exercise”.

On Saturday, she said, “there were no signs of them keeping a low profile”. A similar description was given by Mrs May Dan, a black woman who lives in Railton Road : “At 9am on Saturday morning, I thought there must be some trouble today because the police were in twos all the way down Railton Road, Atlantic Road and Coldharbour Lane”.

Groups of young blacks gathered all afternoon and there were tense confrontations.

(Source : The Guardian, April 13,1981)

The Affluent Society : poverty rediscovered ? photo

The Affluent Society : poverty rediscovered?

Post-war Britain is characterised by Butskellism, a hybrid word formed from part of the names of the Conservative (Butler) and Labour (Gaitskell) Chancellors of the Exchequer.

This socio-economic policy was a compromise between private and public responsibility for the individual and was seen to describe a consensus between right and left which was to last until 1975 (for the Conservatives) and 1979 (for the Labour Party).

The 50s and 60s were years of the acceptance by both sides in British politics of a Welfare State, which looked after the individual “from the cradle to the grave”.

Economic and social changes

Received wisdom indicates an increase in the standard of living for the majority of British people. The average male weekly wage for men in 1952 was £8 14s, the equivalent of £36 in 1976 when the same average weekly wage had reached £65.

This represented an increase in real terms of 80% in 24 years. Or there again, considering the percentage of homes owned by their residents, the figure in the same period jumped from 29% to 54%, an increase of 86%.

For the first time in their lives, many working-class and lower middle-class people benefited considerably from the “affluent society”. They could borrow money at low rates of interest and buy new consumer goods and services. In 1951 there were 48 cars and 103 telephones for 1,000 people. In 1976, the figures were 103 and 392 respectively.

However, it must be remembered that economic growth was slower in Britain than in most other capitalist countries. This is often referred to as “relative” economic decline.

The most important caveat concerning the interpretation of Britain’s decline in growth is, however, a different one. League tables of economic performance are all very well, but what matters for people is their own condition of life…

There is no other period in history, which has seen such an enormous improvement. Indeed, this is not a story of decline; it is one of remarkable advance. However objectionable the statement may be too many, with its connotations of Harold Macmillan’s Bedford speech of 1957, it is a matter of sober truth that most people in Britain have never had it so good. What is often called the decline of Britain is therefore economic and relative.

Economic decline need not mean social or political decline; though the three are obviously related in some ways. Relative decline, in a sense, need not mean decline at all. It simply means that others have done better than Britain, though Britain, too, has done well.

What is more, Britain was the first country to do well, so that in a sense the people of Britain have reaped the benefits of industrialisation for longer, if not to a greater extent, than others.

Yet this is obviously not the whole story. Relative decline means, after all, that British industry lost its dynamics at a time during which others found it perfectly possible to move ahead…

At the same time as Britain’s economy grew (slowly) during the post-war period, so public spending as a percentage of GNP (Gross National Product) rose, to reach approximately half in the I 970s, and within public spending, the amount spent on social welfare (including housing) also rose, to reach approximately a quarter (of this half) in the 1970s.

The economic situation was difficult before the 1964 General Election so the incoming Labour Government inherited a number of problems notably a rising balance of payments deficit.

After 13 years in opposition Labour also wanted to introduce costly social measures, re-nationalise steel (also costly) and expand the economy. The underlying idea was that it was possible to improve economic performance and boost growth, over a period of years, by the national coordination of resources and investment. If Wilson and his Government in the 1960s were for something distinctive, it was for this.

The period 1964-1970 was characterised by a number of economic crises. Britain’s share of world trade fell from 13.9% to 10.8% during this time. Taxation increased from 32% of GDP to 43% of GDP.

Economic planning had failed and this failure precluded major social planning despite the fact that some social reforms were carried through (the launch of comprehensive education, reorganisation of public transport, development in health and local government).

Under the Conservative Governments (1951-1964) Rent and Housing Acts had gone some way towards freeing up rent controls, essentially leading to increasing rents. For Labour, private rents had to be controlled and more council houses had to be built.

The 1965 Rent Act introduced the concept of the fair rent. The Labour Housing Minister Crossman tried to create a parity between the public and the private sectors, with the aim of building altogether 500,000 new homes a year.

This objective was knocked off course by the economic crisis leading to Government spending cuts, rising interest rates and the introduction of SET (Selective Employment Tax) which hit labour-intensive industries like building. In the best year (1968) 426,000 homes were built.

Social mobility: rigidity still prevailed

So the picture painted of the post-war period (1945-1979) is that of a complex situation: an ever-increasing improvement in living conditions for the majority, an apparent reduction in inequality and a gradual increase in spending on the Welfare State, yet, at the same time, fundamental economic problems from the end of the 1950s and persistent social difficulties in certain groups, which became noticeable in the 1960s.

We have therefore to look more closely at the post-war period to see in what way life for certain categories of people was evolving in order to see how the situation affected those in, or on the brink of poverty.

The first post-war survey on social mobility was carried out by David Glass and his group of researchers from LSE. They took a random sample of 10,000 adults in 1949 and asked basic biographical questions.

They then produced an intergenerational mobility table which showed, according to them, that Britain was characterised by a barrier between manual and non-manual workers, by a lot of short-range mobility, and finally by much rigidity and “self-recruitment”, especially at the upper levels of society, where sons would follow in their fathers’ footsteps.

It is not surprising in the early years of the Welfare State that little had seemed to have changed in Britain since the inter-war years, only a few years before. Indeed, Glass’s picture is of British society just as the Welfare State is being introduced.

Westergaardand Resler, writing nearly 30 years later, come to different conclusions from Glass’s data: for them, it would be wrong, especially in a capitalist society, to assume that inequality is fixed from birth.

There is a certain amount of “fluidity’ but this is not incompatible with great inequalities of opportunity. Children from privileged homes still had a better off-chance of getting into high-flying jobs than did the children from underprivileged homes.

Michael Young and Peter Willmott set out in the early 1950s to examine the effects the family unit of the movement of working-class people from the city (Bethnal Green in London) to the housing estate on the outskirts of the city (Greenleigh).

Traditional wisdom stated that the wider family of the past had shrunk since the Industrial Revolution “to a smaller body”. Young and Willmott found however that the wider family was still there in a kinship network.

To return to the theme of the Welfare State, Saville, writing in 1957, considers it as a part-way house on the road to socialism. It owes its setting up to the working-class struggle, the requirements of industrial capitalism for a more efficient environment in which to operate and recognition by the employers that it is the price to pay for political security.

The measures implemented in the 1945-1951 Labour Governments were, therefore, the result of a historical process, beginning in the second half of the 19th century.

Since the inception of the Welfare State, it has become common to talk of the improvement in the share of the national income accruing to the working-class. Saville reminds us that part of this additional share has been taken away in higher indirect taxes to pay for the increased Social Services.

Also, he claims that the major trend towards redistribution occurred during the War, not after it. According to him, since the War, there has been a move to greater inequality, typical of capitalism.

Poverty rediscovered

It was Abel-Smith and Townsend who are credited with the “rediscovery of poverty” in the 1960’s: these and other social scientists noticed that certain categories – notably families with children on low incomes and retired couples – often lived in difficult circumstances.

Titmuss points out that welfare “services” have been provided in the post-war period to counterbalance “disservices” from which many poor and underprivileged people suffer. These “disservices” have been as a result of the way society has evolved over the last century and especially since the War.

He argues for the maintaining of a “universalist” approach with selective positive discrimination in certain key areas to palliate the needs of particular groups. Among the “universalist” measures, he mentions acts in the field of the NHS, education, national insurance and family allowances.

One aim for introducing such laws was to remove the social stigma among claimants. Another was the development of the notion of “social rights”, which developed at the end of the 19th century.

Yet another was the idea of “prevention” rather than “cure”: preventing as many people as possible from falling into the traps laid out by the Five Giants. However, universalism is more complex than first appears: a number of difficult questions have to be answered, concerning the nature of the entitlement, the conditions and rules of entitlement, the methods of payment, the nature of the service or benefit and the extent to which the benefit compensates a “disservice” caused directly by society (like unemployment) or indirectly (like pollution) or inevitable (like language classes for immigrants), or as part of a deliberate social policy (like integration).

Titmuss goes on to point out that as well as”universalist” benefits, the 1960s are still characterised by a large number of means-tested benefits. He mentions a figure of between 1,500 and 3,000 of such means tests, administered by local authorities, in the field of education, child care, health, housing and welfare. “It follows that in these fields alone there exist some 1,500 different definitions of poverty or financial hardship, ability to pay and rules for charges, which affect the individual and the family”.

Titmuss wonders how potential claimants know how to fill out their forms. He considers it would be interesting (but virtually impossible) to try and discover (and if necessary punish !) those responsible for the “disservices” suffered by so many.

“Universalist” benefits should be maintained, they are in part “the consequence of unidentifiable causality”. But a more serious question concerns benefits which may be provided for claimants who are themselves “at fault”. Should everyone be able to claim benefits, either universal or means-tested, without regard to their own responsibility?

Universalism is not, by itself, enough. Since the War, the Welfare State has been unable to eliminate poverty, great differentials in income and different educational opportunities.

The only way forward is thus positive, selective discrimination in income maintenance, education, housing, medical care and mental health, child welfare, integration of immigrants …

T. F. Marshall (“The Role of the Social Services” in Political Quarterly, vol. 40, N°1, Jan-March 1969) posits that the introduction of the Welfare State led to a certain euphoria about the end of poverty which events since the War have shown to be premature.

He refers to the notion of “diswelfare”: instead by merely redistributing money, from the rich to the poor, services and the environment have to be improved to benefits all.

In any discussion of social welfare, it is necessary to come back to the fundamental question of what do we mean by need.

On one level, we can all recognise the need to survive physically, to have enough to eat and drink, without running the risk of falling ill and dying.

On another level, need is about adequate housing (what do we mean by “adequate” ?), income, education, health so as to reach the normal minimum level. This second level shows need to be both social (i.e. it is concerned with standards in communal life) and relative (in that varies from time to time and place to place).

There are different ways in which need is defined and accepted :

  • Normative Need – fixed by experts, to define the minimal level. An example is the Housing Act (1957) which proposed a formula to work out if people were living in overcrowded conditions.
  • Felt Need – what people say they want when asked
  • Expressed Need – when a felt need is translated into a demand, often through a pressure group.
  • Comparative Need – when certain groups, in certain areas, are perceived as falling behind others, by comparison.

Such categorisation enables Governments and Local Authorities to work out which are those most in need within society. Identifying what is therefore meant by “poor” is a way of showing people where the line is (and in a sense warning them not to cross it, if at all possible, because, in so doing, they would be changing category and so changing status in society).

Pointing out who exactly is in need also implicitly shows who is not, and so defines those in society who are deemed comfortable and self-reliant. Those who are identified as being “needy” are thus marked out and set apart. Yet this is the only way social policy can be directed. State aid is not unlimited. Everybody cannot be given unlimited amounts of money, help or time…

The term “needy”, or “those in need” is often perceived as being derogatory in that it implies that only these people are to be studied, apart from the rest of society.

The term “socially deprived” is seen as being more inclusive since those so deprived are deprived by other members of society who themselves may be able to do something about the situation or who may require the Government to act on their behalf.  The socially-deprived are thus seen as victims of society.

The period 1964-1970 saw a number of changes implemented in the field of social welfare. It was apparent that despite the improvements in living standards brought about for many by the Welfare State and by greater economic prosperity, there were still many who lived in need.

The Milner Holland Report (1965) looked into housing conditions in Greater London. This Report was to have a great impact on the debate about overcrowding and homelessness, not to mention the race issue.

Enoch Powell (a Conservative Minister who was expelled from the Party for his outspoken views on immigration in the late 1960s) began a campaign in the late 1960s to show that the country was gravely threatened by the influx of “coloured” immigrants.

He claimed the Report supported his view that “coloured” people were taking over white streets. In fact, the Report pointed out that bad behaviour was not a racial matter, it was a matter that affected all races.

In 1967, there was the Plowden Report, entitled Children and their Primary Schools, under the chairwomanship of Lady Plowden. The Report made a stand against rote learning in schools. It gave a place to parents, denounced corporal punishment and favoured systematic nursery education. There should be an effort in favour of schools in socially deprived areas, with extra staff and funds.

In this, the Report was influenced by recent models imported from the United States. As Lady Plowden said in 1972: “Much of the misunderstanding and violence in society … comes from a deep feeling of isolation and injustice ingrained in our city failures and within our education system”.

The Report also suggested the designation of “educational priority areas” where social and educational conditions were worst, a kind of positive discrimination, through the setting up of “community schools”, “a school open beyond ordinary school hours for the use of children, their parents and, exceptionally, for other members of the community”.

The Report correlated certain social symptoms with certain geographical areas. It listed zones where there were high clusters of deprivation, especially inner cities… In the Report, there was a study of the social studies available to primary school children in the Midlands.

Not unsurprisingly, in the “inner ring area” a much higher percentage of children had to be visited at home by the Social Services when the children’s “health, social adjustment or educational performance appeared to be suffering because of adverse home or other social factors”.

In small towns and rural areas studied, the figures were significantly lower. In the “outer ring”, composed of council estates and re-housed families, children showed fewer problems than in the “inner ring”, so showing the benefits of council housing and re-housing.

According to Holman, following on from Plowden, “there appears a strong case for saying that socially deprived families are frequently found in confined geographical areas identifiable by certain physical and social characteristics”.

He mentions examples of these characteristics: geographical location, “twilight zones” near a city’s business area; areas populated by immigrants; overcrowded and poor amenities, Victorian housing stock; areas with a high percentage of unskilled and semi-skilled workers; higher than average proportions of families on State supplements; higher than normal percentage of large families; a large number of fatherless families; areas with little play space and recreational facilities; areas with poorer health; a high percentage of child deprivation and delinquency, accompanied, according to Plowden, by high rates of truancy. Often these confined geographical areas have worse Social Services than the more attractive areas.

In 1965, the government set up the committee of Local Authority and Allied Personal Social Services, under Sir Frederick Seebohm, to “review the organisation and responsibilities of the local authority personal Social Services in England and Wales, and to consider what changes are desirable to secure an effective family service”. Its remit was therefore large.

Before 1968, personal Social Services were organised within the Local Authorities in separate Children’s, Welfare and Mental health departments. Other departments, such as health, housing and Education were sometimes involved with questions to do with social welfare.

The committee reported three years later and 1970 saw the passing of the Local Authority Social Service Act which implemented parts of the Report (incorporation of the Children’s, Mental Welfare and Welfare Departments, with certain functions of the health and Education Departments, into one Social Services Department.

In 1972 the Government introduced a White Paper entitled National Health Service Reorganisation, England: what was wanted was a service which ensured that the people’s “needs for health and Social Services are not divided into separate compartments”.

Before Seebohm, social workers had developed specialist skills in certain areas. After reorganisation, although social workers could work with one family without having to keep changing department, the skills required were more varied.

During the 1960s, it became obvious that a number of factors were causing problems in the field of social welfare: concentrations of social deprivation in definable geographical areas (following on from Plowden), the realisation that Local Authorities with their separate departments were unable to cope with the rising tide of problems and finally, the knowledge that in the USA, an agency had been set up to wage war on poverty. It became apparent also that in the 1960s many black immigrants to Britain were settling in “inner ring” zones.

In 1968, the Labour Government announced the creation of a programme which would direct resources to those areas of greatest need. The programme was in two parts: the first, called the Urban Programme (UP) or sometimes Urban Aid (UA), gave extra cash for the neediest areas; the second instituted the Community Development Project (CDP), allowing the setting up of teams of workers in selected Local Authorities.

Among the achievements of the UP/UA was the setting up of new services for children and the winning of the interest of voluntary organisations, who could apply for extra cash from the Local Authorities. It can be said that it constituted a new means of allocating resources and of stimulating activity within deprived areas.

Among the criticisms of the programme can be mentioned the fact that the Home Office asked the Local Authorities to make bids before deciding how to spend its money.

Some councils did not make bids or else they did not work them out properly, due to their lack of specialist knowledge of such matters or because they did not want to be stigmatised with the label “deprived area”. Allocations did not always flow to the really deprived areas.

There are different interpretations of the UP and its function. For the Home Office, its purpose is to “strengthen existing service: as a supplement and not an alternative to what Local Authorities may be expected to do”.

Another problem is the lack of resources for the UP. The CDP was also financed from the same source but it was otherwise distinct. It consisted of 12 deprived areas where the Home Office and Local Authorities set up small teams of workers and researchers.

It was based on the assumption that residents in deprived areas possessed untapped capacities which could be used to free them from the dependency on Social Services.

Criticisms of the CDP centred on firstly, the fact that only cooperative Local Authorities were included in the project; secondly, the fact that the projects were run through the Local Authorities excluded deprived residents from having any real control over the initiatives. Thirdly, small projects were rarely followed through to become large-scale projects, capable of helping the many.

Frank Field, the then Director of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) challenged the CDP’s assumptions by arguing that poverty was not contained within small geographical areas and by claiming that the level of welfare benefits was so inadequate that a mere improvement in the communication between social agencies and those in need would not abolish deprivation. Others agreed that deprivation was not confined to geographical areas but was inherent in the social structure of society.

The Family Income Supplement (FIS) was instituted by the Conservative Government to direct money to those in direst need. A problem with Supplementary Benefit had been its inability to reach the working poor.

The Family Incomes Supplement Act (1970) created a source of benefit for families with a full-time worker. FIS set out certain minimum financial levels related to family size, allowing families to receive half the difference between their income and the prescribed level.

The Government claimed it was better to introduce this scheme rather than to increase Family Allowances since the latter would not have helped one-child families. The new benefit helped those on low wages.

Claimants had not to have made a minimum number of contributions. One-parent families were included. Its receipt opened up the right to other benefits (free school meals, free NHS prescriptions …).

Critics claim it subsidised employers who paid low wages. Workers who obtained wage increases did not benefit in cash terms (since they lost a proportionate amount of benefit). Also, the amounts paid in FIS did not take claimants out of poverty. Some pointed out that employment entails expenditure.

Therefore some people would be better off not working and continuing to draw Supplementary Benefit. Also, the take-up rate was only 52% of those who qualified. People did not appreciate the means-tested aspect of this benefit.

Eventually, even the Government felt that FIS had produced perverse effects and it became obvious its days were numbered.

A number of social workers became involved with the issue of “welfare rights”, the entitlement of low-income people to statutory financial or material provisions. ‘Those in need should take up their due. Social workers should make sure that all the needy should be informed of their rights.

Critics pointed out that too much preoccupation with “welfare rights” meant less time dealing with casebook work. Another development in the late1960’s and early 1970s was the growth of community action: this involved local groups organised in definable geographical areas or according to functional interests, interested in social problems often presented in political terms.

Tenants associations, claimants unions, local organisations protesting about planning decisions, housing action groups, neighbourhood associations all proliferated as Social Services were unable to eliminate poverty.

The poor felt less and less represented by the traditional political parties. Turnout in deprived wards reached record low levels. But has community action led to a lowering of confidence in the official channels? Its local anchorage can scarcely lead to national action.

We have seen that in the 1960’s the problem of poverty in certain areas, especially the inner cities came to the fore. The undoubted benefits of the Welfare State were obviously not reaching everyone in British society.

The Reports mentioned in the previous chapter brought to the attention of the authorities the inter-linked nature of urban poverty.

As a result of these Reports, Governments introduced such programmes as Urban Aid and Community Development Projects. These were targeted responses to perceived localised need. Inner cities contained some of the following problems :

  • Factors associated with people : poverty and income support dependency, unemployment, chronic unemployment, the unskilled and under-skilled, one-parent families, large families, the elderly, single elderly people, the sick, the chronic sick, families in need of Social Services
  • Environmental factors : poor physical environment and physical dilapidation, environmental pollution, crime and fear of crime, social tension
  • Educational factors : physically run-down schools, poor teaching, low levels of educational attainment
  • Service Provision : poor or inadequate health services, poor environmental services, poor financial services (loans …)
  • Economic factors : decayed economic infrastructure, poor and inadequate tax base, a high dependency ratio.

Policy strategy therefore had to take into account the full range of problems in trying to solve the problem of the inner cities. At the end of the 1960s and during the 1970s “inner-city policy… was based on an assumption that urban deprivation represented small residual pockets of poverty and dependency on which the otherwise successful Beveridgean Welfare State … had failed to impact” (Edwards J.)

Having said that it would be wrong to jump to the conclusion that everyone in the inner cities was deprived. Neither would it have been true to claim that poverty was only to be found in the inner cities.

‘Areas of special social need’ means local areas where living conditions are particularly poor… and pressure on Social Services is severe. Evidence of social need may take many forms – poverty ; high levels of unemployment, delinquency, mental disorder or children in care ; overcrowding, old and dilapidated housing ; inadequate community services ; a poor quality of environment. Many areas have large concentrations of Commonwealth immigrants.

Home Office Report, 1974

As we have seen, the Urban Programme (UP), which finally disappeared in 1993, focused aid on the inner city. However, it could not be seen as giving preferential treatment too overtly to immigrants to the detriment of the other members of British society, bearing in mind the racial tensions whipped up by Enoch Powell and others. This was a difficult balance to achieve.

The Government put in quite small sums of money, augmented by Local Authorities’ contributions, in the field of pre-school education, language training for those who did not have English as a first language, housing and health centres… It was a question of extra resources for special targeted needs.

In addition, those running the Community Development Projects (CDP) gradually came to the conclusion in the 1970s that the problems in their areas would only be solved by job creation and an improvement in the local economy. Finally, the Education Priority Areas (EPA), created as a result of the Plowden Report, were looked at by Halsey in 1972: each area looked at was different from the next.

Turnover in teachers in the EPA remained high; blanket salary increases for all teachers had not brought about significant results; many of Halsey’s remarks went back to the Plowden Report. Too little nursery schooling was provided.

By the early 70’s it had been realised that poverty was not confined to some particular geographical zones which could be improved by targeting resources. Despite (or because of, according to some) the Welfare State, poverty remained a persistent problem. It became apparent that poverty was linked with persistent economic and social inequality in British society. In 1975 there was published the first of a series of Reports on Distribution of Income and Wealth.

In 1938-1939 the top 10% of income-earners received 40.5% of pre-tax earnings; in 1972-1973, this percentage had fallen to 26.9%. After tax, the same top 10% in 1938-1939 received 34.6% of total incomes; in 1972-1973, the figure was 23.6%.

Therefore, one could say that since 1938, the top 10% have had their share of total earnings gradually reduced and that the figure after tax has also declined though less significantly. Concerning wealth, in 1972-1973, the top 10% owned 72% of the personal wealth in the country.

Tax rates in the early 70s have also to be considered in this context: the top rate of tax on earned income was 83% and the top rate on investment income was 98%. High tax rates were seen as a means of redistributing wealth to a certain extent and reducing inequality.

Halsey refers to changes which took place in the 20th century in the class structure of Britain and inequality: at the beginning of the 20th century, 3/4of the employed and self-employed were engaged in manual labour; by 1971, the occupational structure was more differentiated and more balanced, with manual workers only representing about a third.

From 1918 to the 1970s, there was a gradual movement towards a more equal distribution of personal income. Halsey goes on to say that these equalising tendencies stopped in the mid-1970s when a movement towards greater inequality re-emerged. Halsey goes on to point out that the top one-fifth of households increased their share of total incomes from 44% to 47% between 1976 and 1982.

Titmuss suggests that the impact of taxes and transfers operates through three loosely related systems of state intervention: fiscal policy, the Social Services and occupational welfare.

According to Halsey, “these political interventions can only be understood as collective action to chase the unacceptable outcome of market exchanges: and that means the outcome of class”.

The division of labour is increasingly complex. And the fiscal system is not just one of progressive taxation. It aims to reduce the amount of money the richest members of society keep and increase the amount of money those at the bottom of the scale receive.

It is therefore slightly redistributive but the rates applied do not fundamentally change the fact that the rich remain rich and the poor remain poor. The Social Services were not set up to reduce significantly social divisions but to open up (in the field of education for example) greater opportunities (“the meritocratic society”) and to alleviate the worst forms of suffering from the Five Giants.

Indeed, it could be said that the Welfare State in fact has helped the middle-class as much if not more than the working-class. To take the case of education, the increased investment in further / higher education has in fact helped the middle-class far more than the working-class. And also, the middle-class is usually better informed of its rights than the working-class.

This is also the danger of “universal” services which go to all irrespective of need. It could be argued that the way to help the working-class would be to target it and create more selective Social Services (make the middle-class pay for example for going to university ?).

What has happened since the 1960s is that the Government has tried to “claw back” in higher taxation from the middle-class what it has given them in “undeserved” Social Services.

The Welfare State : an end to poverty and inequality ? photo

The Welfare State: an end to poverty and inequality ?

According to Beveridge, two points of view are presented concerning the introduction of the Welfare State. The established view is that it was introduced in a climate of consensus: wartime hardships, the Evacuation, national solidarity and the acceptance of an increased role for the State in central planning led to a bipartisan approach to the need for durable change in social and health policies in Britain, as in other Western countries.

More recently, it has been pointed out that the War did not eliminate social differences or resentment, Evacuation did not lead to an ending of social prejudice, and the Conservatives and Labour Party did not agree on the way forward.

Nevertheless, Beveridge concludes that the War “was a major watershed in the history of school medical provision… It undoubtedly led to a determination to do something about the burden of poverty and ill-health which had been revealed.

The Butler Education Act (1944)

Even before the Labour victory of 1945, the Conservative Minister R. A. Butler introduced the 1944 English Education Act: since education had, like social security and health care, developed haphazardly, it was felt the situation before 1944 was complex, wasteful of ability and inequitable.

The 1944 Act laid the responsibility for education in England on the State and LEAs (Local Education Authorities), a national system, locally administered Education became a free and universal social service. A Minister of Education was created.

Public education was to be organised in 3 stages: primary, secondary and further. In every area of the country schools should be sufficient in number, character and equipment “to afford all pupils opportunities for education offering such variety of instruction and training as may be desirable in view of their different ages, abilities and aptitudes”.

The private fee-paying sector was left intact. Education for all became compulsory from 5 to 15. Every parent had to ensure his child received a “suitable education” and every LEA had to make suitable provisions for this.

At age 11, children would take a test in English, Arithmetic and General Knowledge (11 plus): in function of the results obtained at this examination, children would be sent either to Grammar School (for those with the highest marks) or Secondary Modern/Technical School for the rest.

This was known as the tripartite system but in reality, it was bipartite since very few LEAs set up Secondary Technical Schools. Comprehensive Schools were not proscribed, neither were they encouraged.

At age 16, the “brighter” pupils would take GCE O-Levels (General Certificate of Education Ordinary-Level) in a number of subjects, the others CSE examinations (Certificate of Secondary Education), introduced in 1963. At age 18, the “brightest” pupils would take GCE A-Levels (Advanced), which enabled pupils to apply for university.

The Labour victory of 1945 was followed by a heavy legislative programme. There were bills concerning Coal Nationalisation, Industrial Injuries, National Insurance, New Towns, Housing, Trade Union Law, the National Health Service… Much of the social planning for this legislation had been carried out during the war.

A common name for this battery of legislation concerning public health, social security, pensions and children’s allowances, better educational opportunities, and even a greater role for the State in the economy of the country (through nationalisations) is the Welfare State.

According to Marwick :

A ‘welfare state’ is one which accepts a responsibility to ensure the social well-being of all its citizen : the commanding heights, so to speak, of social well-being are income security (which ideally, as well as insurance or assistance to cover interruptions of earnings, includes an economic policy directed towards the maintenance of a high level of employment), health, housing and environment, and education. Beyond the commanding heights a sophisticated Welfare State may try to extend its domain to the romantic mist-capped peaks of culture, entertainment, morals and the manifold lesser problems of social relations and social welfare. The phrase was first coined to point a punning contrast to Germany’s ‘warfare state’.

Apart from the influence of Beveridge, which has already been pointed out, it is important to mention here that of John Maynard Keynes, who believed in an increased role for the State in managing the economy.

The National Health Service (NHS)

Before 1939, hospitals were organised piecemeal. In 1938 there were 1334 voluntary hospitals and 1771 municipal hospitals.

During the period of Victorian philanthropy and the consequent growth of hospitals, most of the income of voluntary hospitals came from donations and investments.

In 1891 this amounted to 88%. However, with the increase in medical knowledge and treatment, and greater access to the public, this percentage declined to only 33% in 1938. Manifestly, voluntary hospitals were in a serious predicament and thus they pleaded with the Government for state grants.

As far as doctors were concerned, family doctors (GPs: General Practitioners) were still being paid on the principles of the 1911 scheme, called “Ninepence for Fourpence”: this was the first state-supported health scheme and concerned all male workers earning less than £160 per annum.

The worker had to pay 4d (4 pence); the employer 3d; the state 2d. The scheme was administered by “approved societies” and workers could call on the services of a “panel” doctor.

Yet they had no right to hospital care or medicine. 43% of the population was covered by a “panel” doctor but working-class wives, children and the self-employed were not covered. Spectacles (glasses) could be bought at Woolworths for 6d. Children and the poor could get free treatment only under the means test.

The actual NHS was the first health system in any Western country to offer entirely free medical to the entire population.

It was not based on the insurance principle, with entitlements based on contributions, but on universal services, financed out of general taxation, able to organise preventive medicine, research and paramedical aid on a national basis.

If people choose not to consult a GP under the NHS, they can still consult one as a private patient. It was introduced by Aneurin Bevan, the controversial Labour left-winger.

Bevan believed the war had provided the instruments and the mood to bring about sweeping social change and a decisive shift in economic power, but only through solidarity, through the purposeful use of centralised power.

The NHS bore his personal stamp. Labour’s plans for education and social insurance were already outlined in Butler and Beveridge, so in health, there was room for someone like Bevan to leave their mark.

What was proposed went far beyond anything so far suggested. If there had been a consensus that some kind of NHS was necessary, there was still great suspicion from middle-class doctors. Bevan used great diplomacy to disarm his critics. He drew up proposals in 1946 which were to form the NHS Bill.

New group partnerships and health centres were encouraged in “under-doctored areas”. GPs were to have a salaried amount within their income. The sale of medical practices was abolished and hospitals were nationalised. The launch of the NHS led to a 2-year battle with the BMA.

The doctors, especially those who were rather elderly, well-off and from the South-East were trying to protect their interests. In the end, the impasse was broken, there was no whole-time salaried service and so the vast majority of doctors joined the NHS.

The NHS was officially launched in July 1948: it received a lot of support in the country. Nevertheless, the Conservatives voted against the Bill on Second and Third Readings: they claimed to want an NHS too but were against Labour’s proposals. They felt the Bill would destroy the ownership of hospitals. This gave them the reputation of having been hostile to its introduction.

The private practice remained, so did pay-beds in hospitals. There were no limits to specialists’ fees. Doctors were compensated for losing the right to sell their practices. Medical treatment was linked to needs and not means.

The Act stated that the Government wanted to ensure that in the future every man, woman, and child could rely on getting all the advice and care they might need, irrespective of their ability to pay.

Regional inequalities were supposed to disappear. The organisational structure was based on regional boards and executive councils, which were heavy and bureaucratic, with little popular participation. They replaced the old voluntary or local authorities. Critics have said this made the new boards less accountable.

Nevertheless, the keywords were nationalisation and regionalisation. Yet, Local Health Authorities were responsible for providing maternity and child welfare services, home nursing and home helps vaccination and immunisation provision with medical practitioners, and ambulance services.

Hospitals and specialist facilities for the physically disabled were also free. Training and work placement for the handicapped was covered by the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act of 1944.

The cost had been seriously underestimated. Already in 1949, Bevan had to concede that the estimated costs were inadequate. A further £53m had to be found. There were at this time already threats to introduce prescription charges and charges on false teeth and spectacles.

If there had not been a £3.5 billion loan from the USA, the Government would have had great difficulty in continuing to finance the NHS: in the first year, 187m prescriptions were issued, 8.5m dental patients treated, 5.25m pairs of spectacles prescribed. Churchill suggested Bevan should be one of the first to seek (free) psychiatric advice.

Criticisms of the NHS come from different directions: according to David Stark-Murray of the Socialist Medical Association, Bevan – given the atmosphere and general feeling in 1946 – should have broken with the past: his reform was rather conservative and did not go far enough.

According to Whitney, a Conservative Minister of Health in the Thatcher Government, the creation of the NHS was part of a myth that before it, there was chaos and despair and that July 5th 1948 was a magical date thanks to Aneurin Bevan, the road to a new Jerusalem.

Whitney stresses the long road to the NHS, that began with Lloyd George’s 1911 Act. Whitney claims that the NHS, like Beveridge and Butler, were Conservative ideas introduced by Labour.

According to Timmins, the Bevan Act had the effect of divorcing GPs from the hospitals they had worked with. They became supplicants to the salaried specialists for their patients’ hospital treatment. As a result, their status declined within the NHS.

Social Security

As we have seen, Rowntree suggested that there were 2 main causes of poverty: large families and interruptions in earning power. The National Insurance Act (1946) and the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act (1946) aimed to guard against as many interruptions to earning power as possible.

Previously, social insurance had been limited in its scope; also, it had not protected the individuals covered by it against a number of possible interruptions to normal work and pay; finally, benefit rates were too low. Both Acts managed to solve the first 2 problems by including all workers and all situations. This was one of the main characteristics of the Welfare State: universality.

The National Insurance Act (1946) provided for social insurance payments, except those relating to industrial injuries. It was the beginning of the establishment of a national minimum standard.

The aim of the Act was to attack the “want”, identified by Beveridge in his Report, which could arise when people temporarily lose their earning power, through illness, unemployment, retirement…

Benefits were provided from a fund built on the insurance principle, with contributions from all insured people, from employers and the Government (i.e. from general taxation also). Flat-rate benefits in exchange for flat-rate contributions.

Everyone above school-leaving age (15 in 1947), rich or poor, had to contribute to the National Insurance Fund. The only exceptions were those on very low incomes or married women who could choose to enter the scheme or to stay outside. If they chose the latter, then they could benefit from their husbands’ insurance rights. If not, they could benefit from the full range of benefits in their own right. There were varied contributory rates for different categories, with different entitlements.

Unemployment benefits were only payable to employed contributors, sickness benefits and maternity allowance to employed or self-employed contributors. To qualify for benefits, a minimum number of contributions was necessary. Since unemployment in the post-war decade was less than the 3% expected, unemployment benefits cost less than expected too. Claimants had to make themselves “available for work”.

Sickness benefit was paid in respect of any day in an incapacity for work. It was up to the claimant to prove incapacity, normally done by sending a doctor’s certificate to the local office of the Ministry of National Insurance (later referred to as the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance).

Widows’ benefits were complicated and had strings attached. Retirement pensions (for women over 60 and men over 65) were paid upon the claimant stopping work. Pensions were paid in full immediately, at the rate of 26 shillings for single people and 42 shillings for married couples, without a minimum amount of years in contributions.

This was contrary to what Beveridge had proposed. If people continued to work beyond that age (65-70 for men and 60-65 for women), the pension would not normally be paid. Most workers did not stay on in work after the retirement age.

Women who were insured in their own right could receive a maternity grant, a weekly allowance for at least 13 weeks. For mothers not insured in their own right, a small lump sum was available.

The National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act (1946) was administered by the same ministry as the previous act, both were financed from an insurance fund, with the same contributors.

As industrial injuries were rather rare, for relatively small contributions, relatively high benefits could be offered. There was no provision for the self-employed or for those who were not unemployed. All employed people, including working married women, had to contribute.

The benefit was provided chiefly for “personal injury by accident arising out of and in the course of employment”, usually from the time of entering to the time of leaving employers’ premises. The Act took compensation out of the hands of employers and tribunals and gave workers clearly defined universal rights.

The National Assistance Act (1948), which legally abolished the Poor Law, took the payment of relief away from the local authorities (PACs or Public Assistance Committees), whose duties had been to maintain certain institutions (for the elderly, the infirm, orphans..) and to provide for those in need, based on the means test.

The 1948 Act was a way of standardising the same system throughout the country. Also, potential recipients would not have to go and ask for the benefit. Instead, it became a right, after a short interview with an official of the newly-founded NAB (National Assistance Board). Local authorities however retained responsibility for residential accommodation for the elderly, orphans.

The NAB, not part of a ministry but rather a semi-autonomous public body, had a duty to “assist persons in Great Britain who are without resources to meet their requirements, or whose resources… must be supplemented in order to meet their requirements”. Anyone over 16 could apply. Anyone in full-time work was excluded but claimants fit for work had to register for work in order to receive payment.

The amount which the claimant might receive was assessed according to his resources and the shortfall between his resources and his needs. The total amount must not exceed the amount he would earn if in full-time employment.

The NAB was also responsible for distributing non-contributory old-age pensions (based on the Old Age Pensions Act of 1936), based on a means test, paid to those who did not qualify for a pension based on the 1946 National Insurance Act. Many of those entitled to such pensions also qualified for an assistance grant.

Family Allowance Act (1945)

Family allowances, as suggested by Beveridge, were financed out of general taxation. They were therefore seen as a way everyone could help a particular category of the population in the redistribution of income.

The allowance was not paid for the first child but for every subsequent one, the original amount being 5 shillings a week. There was no means test. Children had only to be below school-leaving age (15) and to be maintained by the claimant (the mother). The allowances were of great benefit to large families on relatively low incomes.

By 1948, 3m families were in receipt of them.

The Beveridge Report : a revolution ? photo

The Beveridge Report : a revolution ?

William Beveridge

William Beveridge was born in 1879 and he became a social worker in the East End of London in 1903. Later, he visited Germany to see for himself the system of social insurance introduced by Bismarck.

Beveridge became a journalist, writing mainly on social policy. He was noticed by Churchill (still a Liberal at that time) and in 1908, Beveridge became a civil servant at the Board of Trade.

Over the next three years, he worked on a national system of labour exchanges, which were introduced by the Liberal Government of Lloyd George. This measure only covered 2.75m men, one in six of the workforce.

Beveridge remained a civil servant for the duration of World War I and after the war, he became the Director of the London School of Economics (LSE). He continued academic work at the Universities of London and Oxford.

In June 1941, he was asked to chair an interdepartmental committee on reconstruction problems and on the coordination of existing schemes of social insurance.

At this time, the social security “system” was in a confused state: 7 Government departments were involved in providing various cash benefits to some people.

The terms of reference were:

To undertake, with special reference to the inter-relation of the schemes, a survey of the existing national schemes of social insurance and allied services, including workmen’s compensation, and to make recommendations. (Beveridge, Beveridge Report : Social Insurance and Allied Services, 1942)

The Beveridge Report

It had been thought Beveridge would just tidy up the existing schemes but in fact, he came up with a brand-new scheme.

In December 1941, he produced a preliminary paper entitled Heads of a Scheme, setting out ideas and assumptions, which were repeated in a slightly amended form in the Report itself:

Three Assumptions : no satisfactory scheme of social security can be devised except on the following assumptions :

1. Children’s allowances for children up to the age of 15 or if in the full-time education up to the age of 16;

2. Comprehensive health and rehabilitation services for prevention and cure of disease and restoration of capacity for work, available to all members of the community;

3. Maintenance of employment, that is to say avoidance of mass unemployment


These words take us a long way from the Means Test of the 1930’s and from private insurance. In Beveridge’s view, benefits should become rights.

What was revolutionary was not that the system was based on “insurance”, backed by the state, but that it would be universal, signifying an end to all means tests.

However, if insurance was to provide the basis for benefits, then children’s allowances would be paid whether the parents were in work or not. If children’s allowances were means tested, then the low-paid with large families would be better off out of work than working unless benefits were very low. This is the problem of the so-called “wage benefit overlap“.

It is interesting here to go back to Rowntree’s investigations in 1899 to see how families with many children were often penalised if the wages coming in were relatively low.

Since Beveridge and others believed the birth rate was falling and thus the country would, in the long term, suffer from this decline, his ideas were also coloured by a desire to encourage women to have children and not to penalise them for so doing.

Beveridge was not the first to raise the questions of children’s allowances : Rowntree himself and others had advocated their introduction before the War and even in the period 1940-1941, an inter-Party group was formed to accelerate their introduction.

When the Report was published on December 1st 1942, it received massive approval. On the night before publication there was even queues outside HMSO (His Majesty’s Stationery Office) branches to buy it. Sales reached 6 figures before the end of the year.

The Home Intelligence Unit of the Ministry of Information said the Report was welcomed with almost universal approval as the first real attempt to put into practice talk about the “new post-war world”.

Beveridge wages War in his Report on five giants : Disease, Ignorance, Squalor, Idleness and Want i.e. poor health, poor education, poor living conditions, unemployment and poverty.

In the beginning, Beveridge briefly explains the reasons why he had come to the conclusions he presents in his Report. He points out that the various schemes in existence have grown piecemeal over the years.

Each problem had been dealt with separately: “the first task of the Committee has been to attempt for the first time a comprehensive survey of the whole field of social insurance and allied services, to show just what provision is now made and how it is made for many different forms of need”.

Beveridge does not begin with open criticism of the status quo. The situation in Britain, he says, is “hardly rivaled in other countries of the world”. However, Britain does fall short in the field of medical services “both in the range of treatment which is provided as of right and in respect of the classes of persons for whom it is provided” and in the field of cash benefits “for maternity and funerals and through the defects of its system for workmen’s compensation”.

Beveridge adds that the “limitation of compulsory insurance to persons under a contract of service and below a certain remuneration if engaged on non-manual work is a serious gap”. He advocates therefore closer coordination which would help beneficiaries and indeed cost less in administrative costs.

He then goes on the point out three guiding principles of recommendations and signals the way to freedom from want. Later, he indicates what he means by the notion of “social insurance” which underpins the Report: “it implies both that it is compulsory and that men stand together with their fellows.

The term implies a pooling of risks…”. The concept behind it is innovative: universality and national solidarity – instead of each person, each category of workers having a separate system or even no system of cover, all workers are treated in the same way, in exchange for their contributions.

The Report then goes into great detail about the proposed level of contributions and is rather technical. The conclusion to the Report presented immediately before a large section of appendices is entitled “planning for peace in war”.

Beveridge points out the likely arguments supporters or detractors, on one side or another, of his Report will make. He answers them by situating the Report in its historical (and historic) context and as a fine war aim to set out, through courage and faith, in a spirit of national unity, as a victory for justice.

The impact of the Beveridge Report

Many people misunderstood the Beveridge Report, thinking it proposed free welfare benefits when it fact it promised insurance benefits, based on insurance contributions and children’s allowances based on taxation since plainly “you don’t get something for nothing”.

An illusion was created that in some way, this was going to be a generous gift from the state to all individuals. This misunderstanding was in part cultivated by Beveridge himself. Yet if one looks closely at the text, he refers to providing people with a “subsistence level”, with the onus on them to work to improve their lot.

To understand the impact of the Beveridge Report, one must look back to the inter-war years. Then, the question of the myth of national solidarity during the hard months marked by the threat of invasion and the Blitz needs to be considered.

Divisions in the country may have been forgotten at a time of national crisis, but the basic problems still existed: injustice, inequality, indifference were still prevalent, especially in many industrial cities of the North, Glasgow, South Wales, and the East End of London. And even in the superficially or affluent rural areas, agricultural workers were hardly well-off.

Beveridge’s ideas were in tune with current thinking and that’s the reason for its success. Many thought the Report was going to lead to radical “utopian” social change. Those witnesses called by the Committee also broadly supported the radical change. Also, the need to modernise, coordinate, ration, and centralise during the War sapped traditional ideas of individuality and a small role for the State.

Beveridge had leaked much of what was in the Report, so there was a great expectation. Sometimes his leaks were unfortunate: “[the report] would take the country halfway to Moscow”. This guaranteed him and his Report a cool reception from the Government.

Nevertheless, Montgomery’s success at the battle of El Alamein had just taken place and this victory, for the first time, over the so-called “invincible Germans”, caused church bells to ring out on November 15th, 1942, just before the publication of the Report, so it could be said to have arrived at a propitious moment for the country.

The public reaction was enthusiastic but other reactions were mixed. There were some who did not believe in all this talk of a “new Jerusalem”, such as Sir John Forbes Watson, Director of the Confederation of British Employers (CBE) and J. S. Boyd, Vice-President of the Shipbuilders Employers’ Federation, who thought the measures could not be afforded.

Churchill’s position was perhaps surprising: he was against the Report, preoccupied as he was with winning the War, and thus with the foreign policy before home policy. Churchill had defined the terms for the Coalition in the following terms: “everything for the war, whether controversial or not, and nothing controversial that is not bona fide needed for the war”.

Also, Churchill wondered, with others, if it could be afforded. In his opinion, it was impossible, financially speaking, immediately.

Conservatives were unsuccessful at by-elections, as they gave the impression they were against it. He was obliged eventually to make a speech in 1943 modulating his position and claiming the credit for inaugurating a reflection on the question of National Insurance.

A Whitehall Committee was set up to look into the implementation of the Report. Then, White Papers were produced on the subject of a National Health Service, Employment policy, and Education, the latter leading to the 1944 Education Act.

Therefore, even though it was the Labour Government of 1945 that introduced the Welfare State, preparatory work had been done by Churchill’s Coalition Government, which of course included many Conservatives.

More electoral inequalities : the Road to Female Suffrage photo

More electoral inequalities : the Road to Female Suffrage

Before the Industrial Revolution, men and women worked together as an economic unit, especially in rural communities. In well-off households, women would run the house.

The Industrial Revolution polarised women’s condition: the well to do withdrew from household management, leaving the way clear for the housekeeper. Woman was seen by the upper-classes as an idealised creature, gentle, pure, pious.

However, the ever more numerous working-class women would frequently work in factories. In 1851, 2.3m women and female children of working age out of 8m worked. Many women worked in service (1.2 million in 1881). Feminists disliked both these extremes.

Arguments against the franchise for women: women were disqualified by their sex; the franchise was based on property qualification; women were thought to be too emotional; most women did not need the vote (they were surrounded by men who often would have it).

For the rest, if vagrant and very poor men did not have the vote, then their women did not deserve it either; the “idealized” woman was above the dirty affairs of Parliament; female suffrage might well pose a threat to men’s sexual domination of women.

Women’s rights were limited if non-existent throughout the 19th century. Reforms were finally obtained after the perseverance of female/feminist activists.

The Custody Act of 1839 gave mothers custody rights of children under 7 in cases of divorce or separation; the Guardianship of Infants Act (1886) gave guardianship of children to mothers on the death of their husbands; the Married Women’s Property Acts (1870, 1882) gave married women the right to keep their own property or earnings.

The Queen’s College (1848) was founded to award degrees to women (elementary and secondary education became available from the 1870s onwards), the Matrimonial Causes Act (1857) led to the setting up of a divorce court and the possibility of obtaining divorce on specified grounds though they varied from men to women.

Women also began to have greater access to employment in shops, schools, offices, and the civil service from the end of the 19th century.

Susan Kingsley Kent (in Sex and Suffrage in Britain 1860-1914) describes the middle-class suffragist movement: she claims that far too many historians assumed it was exclusively political.

For her, it was more than that: the vote was the symbol of the sexually autonomous woman – female suffrage, therefore, meant opening the way to a transformation of the condition of women.

Martin Pugh (in Women and the Women’s Movement in Britain 1914-1959) however makes the point that late 19th century and early 20th century feminists were cautious reformers trying desperately to win support (especially from men) in a society hostile to women.

Jill Liddington and Jill Norris (in One Hand Tied Behind Us) mention the fact that many thousands of working-class North-West radical suffragists participated in the campaigns.

They were often part of the growing labour movement, often members of the Independent Labour Party. They felt that political enfranchisement preceded industrial enfranchisement.

However, they rarely left an indelible mark on recorded history in that they rarely wrote their memoirs.

The campaign of female suffrage lasted for many years and covered different phases :

1866-1870: the Petition presented by John Start Mill, in the context of the 2nd Reform Act, supported by Florence Nightingale, Elizabeth Garrett…

1870-1897: there was a possibility that the legislation prepared in 1884-1885 (3rd Reform Act) could include some measure of enfranchisement for certain women but it was opposed by, among others, Gladstone. Nevertheless, progress was made in other fields (education, the medical profession).

1897-1914: creation of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Society (NUWSS) in 1897 – the Suffragists – and of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903, under the autocratic control of Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, of whom the most famous at this time was Christabel. The Cat and Mouse Act was passed in 1913.

1914-1918: World War I and the suspension of militant activity for the duration of the war and the pursuit of the relief of distress, accepted by the majority of female activists.

The Representation of the People Act (1918) granted the vote to women aged 30 and above. This enfranchised 8.4m women (compared to 12.9m men).

Women’s rights were still linked to wives’ rights (i.e. the status of women compared to men).

The NUWSS became the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship (NUSEC) with a wider remit.

In 1928, women obtained the right to vote on the same basis as men.

Ante Bellum, Inter Bella : Legislation and the Depression photo

Ante Bellum, Inter Bella : Legislation and the Depression

The work of Charles Booth and Rowntree (see Chapter 2: Victorian Philanthropy) influenced a new current within the Liberal Party: new Liberalism.

When the Liberal Party was returned to office in 1906, supported by the nascent Labour Party, it introduced several important pieces of legislation: Education (Provisions of Meals) Act (1906), Education (Administrative Provisions) Act (1907), Children Act (1908), Old Age Pensions Act (1908), Trade Boards Act (1909), Labour Exchanges Act (1909) and Health and Unemployment Act (1911).

Even if we take all these laws together, we only have a piecemeal attempt to deal with social protection. Lloyd George and Churchill (at the time a Liberal) were responsible for the 1911 legislation on unemployment insurance and believed that something should be done to improve a situation that had scarcely evolved since 1834.

The liberals were not overtly committed to social reform during the 1906 election campaign but espousing such a cause was a way of possibly stymying the nascent Labour Party and also preventing any more revolutionary attempts at changing the social system.

In point of fact, not all workers were covered by this legislation. Only wage-earners were eligible and sexually transmitted and alcohol-related diseases were excluded.

Of course, the wives and children of the poor and the unemployed were also excluded. And the Act was administered essentially by the former (private) insurance companies, which became richer, as did the “panel doctors”, guaranteed a per capita sum per “panel patient”.

Even the extension of the Act in 1920 only brought under its umbrella 75% of the workforce. Another strand connected to a desire for improvement in social conditions was the wish to improve the health of many of the urban poor.

After all, Britain depended on its military strength, which in turn depended on the fitness of its men. A weakened working class would be unable to defend Britain’s interests in times of international conflict.

The inter-war years (1918-1939) were characterised by a great paradox: economic instability and recession in much of the country and also a rise in the standard of living for the majority of the population.

In 1918, Britain was still a strong economic and industrial power (especially in the fields of cotton, coal, shipping and international trade in general). The First World War had forced the Government to switch the emphasis to armaments, which when peace came had a distorting effect on economic activity.

The cost of the war was high : Britain changed from being a creditor nation to a debtor nation. As an island trading nation, Britain was particularly affected by the changes in the international trading system.

The inter-war years were characterised by wild swings, oscillations from free trade to protectionism, great uncertainties, all of which affected Britain.

After World War I, Britain’s entrepreneurial class showed great reluctance to move into the new industries, such as electricity, artificial fibres, cars, luxury items, new foods…

In 1907, the new industries accounted for 6.5% of Britain’s total industrial output; in 1928, the figure had only reached 16.3%. The rise in the importance of the new industries was modest but still there for all that.

In the old industries, the example of the Lancashire textile industry is exemplary: a desire to go back to the old 19th-century ways, even though the machinery was now written off and a reluctance to amalgamate and thus, for mill-owners, the fear of losing their independence.

Governments in the 1920’s followed orthodox policies. In 1920, the Bank Rate was raised to 7%, hence encouraging saving and discouraging spending. In 1921, the Geddes’ Economy Committee was set up and reduced public expenditure.

In 1925, Churchill, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, reintroduced the Gold Standard, which re-established pre-World War I parity of the Pound and the Dollar. In so doing he did not take into account the fall in the Pound that had taken place in the intervening years. This produced a handicap for the British industry, overvaluing the British currency (£1 = $4.25).

According to orthodox economic principles, costs had to be cut and often wages suffered. It remained at 2% until 1939. Britain, France and the USA signed a tripartite agreement to stabilise currencies but throughout the 1930s, the level of the Pound remained too high to really kick-start the economy. The great battle was between free trade and protectionism.

The first few hesitant steps were taken in 1932 with the Import Duties Bill which introduced 10% tariffs on all imported goods from non-Empire countries, pending a world agreement on international trade. Prime Minister Baldwin talked of “safeguarding”.

There were a number of changes in the population during the inter-war years. There was a rise in the proportion in the population of working-age leading to a rise in the number of producers as compared with consumers. This led to a rise in national output, despite the high unemployment of the early 1930s.

There was a shift in the population from the industrial North and South Wales to the South, the Midlands, and the South-East. The population of Greater London increased from 7.5m in 1921 to 8.5m in 1939, whereas the population of South Wales fell by 100 000 between 1931 and 1938.

There was an increase in the population of new towns (Coventry, Luton, Slough…). In the 1930s, there were also net inflows into the country. Some former emigrants returned to Britain and there were inflows from Ireland and refugees from Europe.

Between 1931 and 1941, there was an increase in the population of 650 000. Nevertheless, there was a slowdown in indigenous population growth due to the deaths of so many males during the War, the phenomenon of increased wealth and more birth control.

There were also changes in the economic and social status of women: in 1911, 5.75m women were in employment; in 1936, the figure had risen to 6.5m. Changes in patterns of female behaviour (including going out to the pub !) were linked in part to a certain emancipation after female suffrage had been obtained in 1918 and 1928 (see Chapter 5 : More electoral inequalities : the Road to Female Suffrage)

As far as social class was concerned, Britain was still a class-conscious society but changes were taking place: there was a move away from the landed aristocracy towards a prosperous business class. The middle class developed with the increase of salaried office workers.

There was an increase in the professions, civil servants and a gradual rise in the number of female members of the working middle class. At the same time, there was a decrease in servant employment. In 1936, the Government defined “working class” as follows:

The expression “working class” includes mechanics, artisans, labourers and others working for wages, hawkers, costermongers, persons not working for wages but working at some trade of handicraft without employing others, except members of their own family, and persons other than domestic servants whose income in any case does not exceed an average of £3 a week, and the families of such persons who may be residing with them.

Schedule II, The Housing Act, 1936

A divided country

The country was very much divided during the inter-war years between the old 19th century “half”, where wages fell during the Depression, and the new “half” (in the Home Counties for instance) where wages actually increased during that period.

The Hunger Marches were an attempt to show the other half of the country what the North-East was going through. National unemployment reached a peak of 3m in January 1933 and then fell back to 1.6% (i.e. 12% of the insured population) where it remained until 1939.

Many observers point to an absence of real resentment against class inequality. Trying to explain this, Runciman (in Relative Deprivation and Social Justice, 1966) advances the theory of relative deprivation: satisfaction or resentment are not functions of inequality as measured by economists but by man’s assessment of his own position compared to others with whom he compares himself.

Between World War I and the 1960’s, working men compared their lot with that of others in the working class and not with non-manual groups. Also, it has been pointed out that unemployment did not lead to the break-up of the family, despite the great pressures on the role of the male as”bread-winner”, and the difficulties often felt by women in trying to eke out a living.

There was rarely a correlation between class inequality and resentment of it. There was often solidarity in adversity with the working-class making the best of a bad job and getting on with their lives, however difficult things might have become.

Yet it would be wrong to say there was never any bitterness: tempers occasionally boiled over (in Rochdale and Belfast in 1932 for example).

A persistent poverty

In the poor parts of the country and even in pockets in the prosperous parts, despite the progress made since the beginning of the century, numerous surveys pointed out terrible poverty which persisted.

Rowntree carried out another survey in York in 1935-1936 and discovered, using the same criteria as in 1899, 6.8% in primary poverty (compared with 10% in 1899).

The reasons evoked were the same as those mentioned in late Victorian and Edwardian times: old age, sickness, low pay, and large families.

In York, Rowntree discovered that old age, sickness, and unemployment were more important causes of poverty than in his survey of 1899.

Many surveys showed that child poverty was a very serious problem. Rowntree found that half the 6.8% in primary poverty were children. And it must be remembered that as well as those in primary poverty, many more were living below the “bread line” : approximately half of all working class children would suffer from poverty at some time.

Another group to suffer disproportionately from poverty was old people. Despite the introduction of old-age pensions in 1908, their low-level left recipients below the poverty line. The Depression in the early 1930s exacerbated an already bad situation, bringing to the fore problems of chronic malnutrition among low-income groups.

As well as work carried out by social investigators, other writings saw the light of day in the first third of the 20th century (Greenwood’s Love on the Dole, The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell…). Just as in the period 1835-1855, the social conditions of England provided a rich seam of material for indignant observers and writers.

Indignation was often the result of a feeling that nothing was really being done by the Government to alleviate the causes of poverty, and indeed, that during the Depression, the situation was being made worse by the Government. Opprobrium was often poured on the “Household Means Test“.

In 1931 MacDonald’s Labour Government, which was elected in 1929, was replaced by a National Government, dominated by the Conservatives, though initially led by MacDonald: it cut insurance benefits. Those whose benefits were at an end were transferred to the Public Assistance Committees (PAC) run by the Local Authorities.

The Committees implemented a harsh means test to determine whether potential beneficiaries really needed help. In a way not too dissimilar to the 1834 Act, the ethos was one of the inquisitorial tones, delving into the corners of the family budget in order to prove whether there was a genuine need or whether the candidates could manage on their own.

There were also discrepancies between local authorities and so a feeling of injustice (Birmingham disallowed 34.8% of all applications whereas Methyr, in Wales, disallowed only 0.5%).

There was also a discrepancy between men and women: a slight majority of men’s claims were paid in full compared to only a third of women’s claims.

The unions believed that instead of finding ways of reducing benefits and allowances, the Government would be better off trying to provide jobs for those willing to work.

Electoral inequalities : the Road to Male Suffrage photo

Electoral inequalities in Victorian England: the Road to Male Suffrage

Before 1832, the electoral system in Great Britain was confused : there were County seats, Borough seats, “scot and lot” seats (where any adult male who paid local poor rates could vote), “potwalloper” seats (where every resident male of at least 6 months standing who was not a pauper could vote) and of course “rotten boroughs”.

Eventually, after a long struggle (cf The Peterloo Massacre in 1819), the First Reform Act was passed by a Whig Government in 1832, which resulted in an extension of male suffrage for England : in county seats to those owning freehold property worth at least 40 shillings per annum and those leasing or renting land worth at least £50 per annum ; in borough seats to those owning property worth at least £10 per annum with provisions.

There were also changes in the distribution of seats: 56 borough constituencies lost their representation entirely, 30 boroughs lost one of their two members, 22 new Parliamentary boroughs were created with two members, 19 new Parliamentary boroughs were created with one member and county representation increased. Similar measures affected Wales, Ireland, and Scotland.

However, many working-class men felt they had gained nothing from this legislation : they only saw a small increase in the electorate to the advantage of the middle-class. There followed a period of agitation, referred to as Chartism.

In 1835, there were calls for the repeal of Stamp Duties, for an honest and cheap press. The London Working Men’s Association, with middle-class participation, organised a petition composed of Six Points, published in 1838 as the People’s Charter. They wanted:

  1. A vote for every man aged 21 or over
  2. A secret ballot
  3. No property qualification for MP’s
  4. Payment of MP’s
  5. Equal constituencies
  6. Annual parliaments

Chartism ebbed and flowed over the next 20 years with a peak in 1848. Fervour often coincided with economic and social problems (bad harvests, unemployment, strikes, famines).

Some say Chartism failed because the working-class was not ready for the vote; others that the Chartists were riven by internal divisions and Governments certainly always fought hard against them, branding them as evil wreckers. After 1858, Chartism faded away.

During the 1850s, there were numerous limited reform proposals, most of which emanated from Lord Russell, but Parliament was not ready yet for them.

In 1866, Gladstone drafted a Reform Bill which was defeated by a coalition of right-wing Whigs and Conservatives. The Government fell. Thus followed a wave of popular resentment: extra-parliamentary pressure led to another attempt at reform, this time proposed by the Conservatives under Lord Derby and Disraeli.

Eventually, the Second Reform Act was passed in 1867, a “leap in the dark” according to Derby. A new concept was initiated called “household suffrage with safeguards”, though the safeguards were soon to be dropped.

In the boroughs, residential qualification was one year, £10 annual rent lodgers were accepted. In the counties, the annual rent qualification was fixed at £12 per annum.

Altogether this led to the enfranchisement of 1 250 000 men of the “upper” working-class, a fine reward according to Disraeli.

Some measures required a few years to come to fruition. It took 6 years until all miners in rent-free colliery homes in Morpeth could vote for example. Some feared this would lead to the rise of socialism. Others believed that no individual had a “right” to vote. The working-class were variously described as “venal and ignorant”.

After the enfranchisement of urban householders in 1867, the next step was to do the same for rural householders. The spread of literacy removed one objection. The Whig influence was declining. The Liberal Joseph Chamberlain pushed hard for reform.

Eventually, Gladstone’s Liberal Government pushed through the 3rd Reform Act in 1885. Single-member constituencies were imposed in counties and most boroughs. The chief victims were the Whigs, who had often been paired with Liberals.

The electorate increased from 2.5m to 5m in England and Wales (2/3 of men could vote). Yet men in receipt of poor relief were still disenfranchised, there was a one-year residence qualification and women were still voiceless.

Victorian philanthropy photo

Victorian philanthropy in 19th century England

Two approaches seem to characterize the second half of the 19th century: on the one hand, a Victorian philanthropy, designed essentially to reward those worthy of salvation and, on the other hand, a movement away from assistance towards self-help, the Cooperative Movement, Friendly Societies including Oddfellows, Trade Unions…

Charity was widespread during the 19th century though the actual amount distributed is difficult to estimate. It is claimed by William Howe, who produced surveys of London charities, that “the income of the London charities… (reached)… £2,250,000 in 1874-75 rising to £3,150,000 in 1893-94“. This was approximately one third the figure spent by the Poor Law authorities at the time.

There have even been claims that charity exceeded State expenditure on the poor. Of course not all charitable donations were intended for the poor.

Middle class philanthropy was sometimes to be found in certain employers who attempted to look after the welfare of their workers: Cadbury in Birmingham, Lever on Merseyside, Colman in Norwich are examples of this.

In 1869, the Charity Organization Society (C.O.S.) was set up to organize charities in order to maximize the charitable effects and to minimize any demoralization of the poor, through encouraging undeserving people to remain recipients of relief.

One of its leading lights was Octavia Hill, a leading housing reformer. Beneficiaries of church-sponsored charities would be expected to attend church or to send their offspring to Sunday School in exchange for help. Many poor people resented this dependency culture and preferred to remain defiantly independent yet in need.

When one mentions “self-help”, one thinks immediately of Samuel Smiles: the moralizing concept of “self-help” seemed to be a value prized by the mid-Victorian middle class.

“Self-help” strengthened the individual whereas help from outside enfeebled him or her. Extending the notion of self-help to the working class lifted a load from the shoulders of the middle class, letting them rest easy with the fruits of their own achievements. It was thus up to the working class to make provisions for their own welfare.

The Cooperative Movement began in Rochdale (near Manchester) in 1844 and was initially a trading association which provided goods (and later services) at a reasonable price, with a dividend paid to the members of the “co-operative”.

Friendly Societies were also attempts at creating groups of like-minded friends, neighbours, or work-mates who would pool a certain amount of money, on a weekly basis, and thus have a reserve fund in case of an unforeseen disaster. Membership reached 925,000 in 1815. The Manchester Unity of Oddfellows was the largest Friendly Society.

During the first half of the 19th century, it was often claimed that poverty was the result of an individual’s inability to cope with life, linked to some defect, like laziness or alcohol dependency.

It was felt that the deserving poor should be encouraged to help themselves out of their predicament through hard work, abstemious behaviour, thrift and godliness.

The role of Government was limited: doling out large sums of relief to the poor would only have the perverse effect of encouraging poverty, especially among the undeserving. The second half of the 19th century saw other ideas about poverty come to the surface.

Henry Mayhew (London Labour and the London Poor, 1851) wrote newspaper articles describing the abject living conditions of some of the more colourful characters among the London poor. It appeared to him that those living on or below the breadline were not all guilty of some moral defect.

Many were simply unable to find sufficiently well-paid employment. Whether his investigations were seriously carried out or whether he was prone to exaggeration and partiality, the results of his work were read by many and brought to their attention faces of poverty formerly unknown to them. Writers such as Dickens were influenced by Mayhew.

Progress towards the idea of “human rights” and the role of the state in the well-being of the individual was slow. The familiar question was how to balance the uplifting of the poor with the distribution of material relief; which might be seen to reward those unwilling to make efforts themselves.

And within the working class itself, even if the moral dimension was often absent, there was still a feeling on occasions that industrious workers should not have to subsidize lazy, marginal characters.

Progress was made however in the field of trying to get rid of worker exploitation, where all workers could unite to oppose the attitude of some unscrupulous employers.

Awareness about poverty in late Victorian Britain was helped by Seebohm Rowntree‘s study of poverty in York in 1899 (Poverty: A Study of Town Life, 1901): he pointed out that the majority of the working class could expect to experience poverty a number of times in their lives, when young children, when having children and when old (life-cycle poverty).

Drink and gambling were seen to exacerbate the problems and survival was conditional on workers avoided these traps.

Rowntree defined the poverty line as “a standard of bare subsistence rather than living”. According to him, 10% of the population lived in “primary poverty” and another 18% earned more, but wasted their extra money on wasteful vices.

A major problem concerned large families who had only a relatively low amount of income. The more children they had, the more they were penalized.

William Booth (In Darkest England and the Way Out, 1890), the founder of the Salvation Army, also made a distinction between the worthy and the unworthy, though he recognized that was secure from being drawn in to poverty.

He refers to “Darkest England”, composed of 3 concentric circles, sodden with drink: the outer one inhabited by the starving and homeless; the middle one by those who live by vice; the inner one, by those who live by crime.

Another to point out the plight of the poor at this time was Charles Booth (The Life and Labour of the People in London, 1902): he had noticed an “arithmetic of woe” with over 30% of the population of London living in poverty.

Charles Booth did not agree with the idea that the poor were totally responsible for their predicament. He carried out a careful classification of the population and his findings showed that problems linked to employment were at the heart of poverty – rather than any innate immorality.

At the end of the 19th century it was clear that although it would be wrong to claim that the majority of the population lived in absolute poverty, the majority of the population lived in the shadow of poverty.

They had little in the way of savings or insurance to protect themselves from any sudden disaster (illness, death, loss of employment…) which could tip them over the precipice.

The Poor Law Amendment Act (1834) photo

The Poor Law Amendment Act (1834)

In the Middle Ages, responsibility for the poor was in the hands of religious orders, usually to be found in the monasteries. In the middle of the 16th century, after the dissolution of the monasteries, the problem of looking after the poor became critical.

The increase in population was another factor and the poor people were often seen wandering around the country.

For many, the solution was to send the poor to fill up the new colonies in Virginia and beyond. In 1572, it was a criminal offence to be a vagabond and compulsory poor rates were introduced in the parishes.

The Poor Law of 1601 mentioned the “lame, impotent, old, blind, and other among them being poor and not able to work” and required the administration of poor relief in the parishes where the inhabitants had to take care of their “own poor”.

These laws were a mixture of charity and harshness, especially in the punishment of able-bodied people.

The 1601 Law

The 1601 Law was still in force right into the 19th century. In the first half of the 18th century, this paternalist system seemed to many to work reasonably well, especially as the population only increased very slowly and food prices were not too exorbitant for the poor.

In the latter part of the century, however, with the onset of the Industrial Revolution (1760-1830), the Law started to break down, with rising food costs, rapid population growth and a relative decline of rural society, and rapid growth in the new urban centres.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the master-peasant relationship was harsh but was complex, relied on human contact. The peasant was surrounded by his family, living in a (rural) community, often for generations.

The employer-worker relationship of capitalism created a new relationship between classes, based on the cash-nexus, and relentless production rhythms, with little place for leisure.

Gilbert’s Act

In 1782, Gilbert’s Act modified the Poor Law: it was passed to counter the increasing cost of the system and enabled parishes to work together to form larger Poor Law Authorities. They could, for instance, pool efforts and share a common poorhouse.

In 1795, as a consequence of the economic turmoil in the wake of the French Revolution and of the wars between European nations, magistrates in the Speenhamland took the decision to subsidize the wages of agricultural workers according to the number of children they had. This was known as the Speenhamland system.

There were many critics of the Poor Laws, though not all criticized the same aspects. Some seemed to criticize the undeserving poor (Malthus, Ricardo) while others advocated a more compassionate and universal system (Owen, Paine).

The end of the Napoleonic Wars and the poor harvests of the 1820s led to many country ratepayer landowners, who had to pay for a large percentage of the Poor Law benefits, complaining about the rising costs of such poor relief, which rose from £5.7m in 1823 to £7m in 1831 (see Murray, Poverty and Welfare 1830-1914, 1999).

Also, there were allegations concerning corruption in the administering of the local Poor Laws. Finally, it was claimed that the Speenhamland system actually encouraged women to have more children to have higher benefits. The 1821 Census seemed to confirm the rise in population.

The Poor Law Amendment Act (1834)

The Poor Law Amendment Act (1834), inspired by utilitarian and Malthusian principles (its architects were Edwin Chadwick and Nassau William Senior, both disciples of Jeremy Bentham, the founder of utilitarianism), was based on notions of discipline and frugality.

In addition, the (Whig) Government’s aim was to reduce public expenditure and make the poor more “responsible” for their own well-being: this involved the ending of “outdoor relief” and the setting-up of “workhouses”, often compared to “Bastilles”.

The aim was to dissuade all but the very hopeless from seeking assistance since poverty was the fault of the individual and should not only be discouraged but even punished.

Poor Relief was set at a level below the level of earnings of a labourer “of the lowest class”. The Poor Law Amendment Act was passed in a context of deciding who among the poor was deserving and who was not.

This important link between poverty and morality characterizes the 19th century. It was felt by some that to help all poor people would encourage and indeed reward immorality.

The workhouse was seen as a chance for the deserving poor to show their willingness to work hard in exchange for help at a difficult time in their lives. In so doing, they could regain their self-esteem and their position in society. However, the draconian conditions in the workhouse would dissuade the shirkers from seeking help.

The first reports on poverty and the living conditions of the poor were carried out in the 1830s. Kay, a Manchester doctor, set up the Manchester Statistical Society to look closely into the amount of poverty in the industrial North West.

Gaskell was more interested in the manufacturing process and the concentration of production capacity to reduce costs.

Chadwick, as one of those who proposed the introduction of the workhouse, supported his analysis with a formal stance. It was his report which would lead to the introduction of the 1834 Act.

Thompson believes the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act was “perhaps the most sustained attempt to impose an ideological dogma, in defiance of the evidence of human need, in English history”. According to him, the Act was impossible to apply fully, unduly harsh, doctrinaire and the wrong answer to a serious social problem.

Historians do of course differ as to an interpretation of the consequences of the Act. It seems to be fair to say that the act was of great significance and was hated by the poor.

The issue of poverty and assistance cannot be simply reduced to the class struggle: poverty and assistance are situated on different levels, sometimes between classes but also sometimes within the same class.

According to Poirier (“Pauvreté et assistance: Dramatis Personae” in Revue de Civilisation Britannique, Vol.6 n°2, Jan. 1991), the terminology has changed over the years: in the Middle Ages, the poor were assimilated to beggars.

Later, the poor were assimilated to peasants and later still, to peasants who had lost their land after the application of the enclosure laws.

In the 19th century, the poor became assimilated to the industrial labouring classes. This is not surprising considering that in 1830 the majority of the British population lived in the countryside whereas, in the 1851 Census, it was revealed that slightly more than half the population in England and Wales were living in towns or cities.

The factors affecting the rural poor and the urban poor have to be carefully appreciated. For the former, for instance, the weather could have a significant effect on harvests and so contribute to poverty.

For the latter, for example, trade cycles or foreign wars (the American Civil War…) could have an effect on employment, wages and thus contribute to poverty.


Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) believed that since the population increased more rapidly than food production, everything should be done to control population increase.

According to him, the 1601 Poor Laws reduced the will to save and to make provision for the future among the common people.

David Ricardo (1772-1823), influenced by Adam Smith and Thomas Malthus, believed in the free market with few governmental controls: any attempts to “subsidize” incomes would have a distorting effect on the economy. He was hence again the Speenhamland system.