Principles, Poor Laws and welfare states

Jose Harris

in Making social policy work

Published by Policy Press

Published in print October 2007 | ISBN: 9781861349583
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781447302742 | DOI:
Principles, Poor Laws and welfare states

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This chapter uses an analysis of the Poor Law to deconstruct some of the mythology surrounding the history of the welfare state. It argues that seemingly quite dated policies and institutions of past eras may contain elements that are constant and universal, or at least recurrent, in many different contexts and epochs, while other apparently ‘timeless’ models are actually time-specific. It suggests that the Poor Law was less unpopular with poorer classes and not as universally harshly administered than is often portrayed. Some of the strengths and virtues often ascribed to the welfare state may more properly be seen to be stemming originally from the Poor Laws, while other, seemingly timeless, aspects of the post-war welfare state, such as its universalism, were in many ways a product of the particular period in which they were introduced. There are lessons to be learned from history about what works; but they may not always be the most obvious ones.

Keywords: Poor Law; social policy; welfare state; univesalism

Chapter.  8835 words. 

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