For hundreds of years the health and general wellbeing of people and their families have suffered due to the difficulties that social policy and welfare provision has been continuously faced with as a result of the persistence of poverty. This essay will explain and discuss the ideologies of the major political parties, how they have influenced the development of welfare and the effects they have had on social policies and social care provisions. It will explain how these ideologies were formed and how they are relevant in present day starting with the Elizabethan Poor Law right through to the ‘Middle way’ of the late twentieth century. The Elizabethan Poor Law 1598 continued through until amended in 1834. It was the earliest form of welfare state and was based on local church parishes. This provision mainly focussed on the poor and due to the fact there was no government at this time, the parish had full control. People of each parish would pay their local tax which they called the ‘Poor Rate’, this money was then paid out to people born within that parish in two ways. The first was called ‘Outdoor Relief’ and was paid to people who remained in their own homes. As a priority, it would cover the abled bodied poor and needy who were given the poor rate payments in exchange for work carried out on behalf of the parish. This money was also given to widows who received small pensions and had smaller bills paid. This form of benefit was based on need so it was means tested. This is much like the community care payments, top-ups and grants that we receive today. The second provision was called ‘Indoor Relief’, this funded people who could not work such as the sick or elderly who were moved into institutions such as alms-houses. This benefit was much like today’s incapacity benefit or what is now known as Employment Support Allowance. The ideologies of the time were that the poor and needy should be looked after within the parish as a part of people’s Christian duty to help their neighbours and accepting taxation for the alms-houses was a provision. The parishes were very accepting of the fact that some people were unable to look after themselves and that they require help for basic living needs. Due to each parish giving welfare to anyone who lived within it, people often moved from parish to parish collecting the poor rates, this was seen as undesirable as it broke the law of settlement. The law of settlement protected parishes from outsiders as it forbid anyone from moving between parishes collecting rates. If anyone was caught doing this, they would be liable for serious punishment and returned to their own parishes. These people, along with the unemployed were referred to as vagrants. These behaviours lead to the fear of vagrant’s culture. Although most attitudes towards welfare provisions were positive, Thomas Malthus a contemporary writer of the early 18th century had a great influence on upper class society. His controversial beliefs became publicised due to his literature on ‘The Principles of Population’ this not only influenced people of power but also influenced Charles Darwin’s theory on the Natural Selection. Malthus opposed the welfare system as according to him the system kept what he called ‘The Undesirables’ alive and he believed that eventually the world would become over populated and no longer have the capacity to feed itself. This lead to the opposition of the Christian duty to help people in need as he convinced the majority that these people were not worth helping and should be left to die from hunger and disease. Due to this, the welfare provision and poor law amended act 1834 ended Outdoor relief. The only relief available to able bodied unemployed individuals and their families was hard work, food and accommodation within workhouses. Due to the disgusting conditions of the workhouses people would only accept this eventuality as an absolute last resort as the aim of this act was to punish the poor and make them find work. The poor were now divided into two groups, the sick, disabled and widowed were classed as the deserving and the poor able bodied individuals were known as the undeserving. Poverty was seen as a result of the undeserving. Economic liberalism was the ideology of the coalition between the conservative and the liberal parties and was thought to give people economic freedom, essentially letting people make their own mistakes and offering no financial help. Although economic liberalism was supportive of government regulation to a certain degree it opposed government intervention. Philanthropy came from the ideology of individualism which is much similar to the more recent Thatcherism. It resulted in many positive changes and influenced attitudes towards why the poor were poor. One of the most famous philanthropists was Seebholm Rowntree, he amongst others improved working conditions and influenced changes such as mutual aid and unions. (Rowntree Society 2014) In 1850 Edwin Chadwick conducted a report on sanitary conditions due to a cholera epidemic. At this time people were not aware of germs, there were no clean water supplies or refuse services and so the government realised that something needed to be actioned to improve living conditions, this brought in further taxations. The report proposed to enforce the control of sewage, drainage and to offer a water supply for toilets and slaughterhouses. However, the public were against this as they were accustomed to these conditions due to their lack of education on what caused illness. When germs were finally understood, The Public Health Act finally proceeded in 1875 and it was made compulsory for local sanitary inspectors and medical officers to lay drains and sewers and to build reservoirs. There was resistance by the people of government control and interference as people wanted to look after themselves as the Public Health Act was about collectivism and stated that it was no longer about the individual, it was about the communities as a whole. Despite the resistance by the people, the conservative and liberal parties remained in power until the early 20th century. Social Liberalism was very much the ideology of the early 20th century. It indicated that the state should take some responsibility for the effects of poverty and the welfare of its people, this was to set a minimum standard of service. Individualism and self-help was still very much an important subject and people were still blamed to a certain extent for their poverty issues, however, the state was now addressing economic issues such as poverty, education and healthcare. Social progress was the topic rather than individual rights. The government prepared to place limited provision and in 1911 brought in the National Insurance Act. This was the first national scheme to give minimal unemployment and health benefits. Despite this, children and women were not entitled as they were seen to be dependent on men. In the 1920’s & 30’s extensions of pensions and health and unemployment insurances were brought in along with yearly medical inspections for children. At this point means testing begun and people were required to reveal all money they received in order to qualify for any benefits. These decisions were partly due to the fact that the country needed to get back on its feet after the war and were made between three parties. The liberal party ran from 1905 until 1922 and were responsible for the National Insurance Act, conservatives ran from 1922 for one year and then labour took over until 1929. The conservatives then came back into power for a further 5 years until power went back to labour until 1937 which was then passed back to the conservatives until 1945. In 1942 the prime-minister Winston Churchill commissioned William Beverage to compile a report on the possibilities of social security which was intended to relieve post war Britain of the desperation they had faced during the war and give them a sense of hope. (Society-Politics 2014) the ideology was to promote social equality and rights. The government was to take responsibility for people and tackle the needs of the country. A way of tackling this was the redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor via taxation. Beverages report acknowledged 5 giant evils of poverty and the road to reconstruction. The first of the 5 giants was Want, this was tackled with an improved National Insurance Act and extended benefits to everyone in 1945. Disease was the second and this was combatted with the beginning of the NHS. This act provided free healthcare to everyone in 1948 and included doctors, hospitals, dentists, opticians, midwives, ambulances and health visitors. The third giant was Squalor, this was tackled with the Town & Country Planning Act 1947 which built 1.25 million council houses between 1945 and 1951. The Children’s Act 1948 also provided good homes and care for deprived children. The fourth giant was Idleness and so this report proposed the attempt to provide employment opportunities with the nationalisation of roads and haulage, railways and coal mining, this was called Marshall Aid and was intended to jump start the industries and create more jobs. The final giant was Ignorance, The Education act in 1944 was to provide free education for all. These were means tested and meant that the poorest were provided for. While these changes were implemented, Labour were in power from 1945 to 51, however, this was all part of the collective consensus in 1948 which meant all political parties needed to agree. Margaret Thatcher came into power when the Conservative party was re-elected in 1979 and poverty was the biggest problem she had to tackle. The ideology at the time was that people were dependant on the state and so Thatcher challenged this by stating “you get back what you give” and that “people have to work for their place in society” as our welfare was being used and abused by the British and internationals. In an effort to challenge this she made all entitlements means tested. Thatcher built more schools and colleges than any other prime minister as she believed that if people were better educated, they would serve better in society. Thatcher brought in multi-agency purchaser and providers and so social services grew. Thatcherism also known as New Right had a popular capitalism ideology that was about money and power for the people and less dependency on the state. This way of thinking improved the NHS due to doctors and hospitals etc. being given their own budgets so they no longer need rely on the government. This meant they had to buy into the services they wanted for their patients and so were more inclined to shop around and get the cheapest but best services possible. Thatcherism also brought in private health insurance due to the privatisation of companies, buying shares and the international market. In the 1970’s economic stagflation occurred, Thatcher sold off private sectors such as British gas and sold many council properties to private buyers but did not replace them - this was known as the winter of discontent in 1978-79. Thatcher was the longest serving member of parliament of the 20th century and although her practice was disliked by many, she relieved the country of the debt and disorder it was in. New Labour otherwise known as The Middle Way was meant to be a new way, a different way of thinking to old labour. The Middle Way ideology was about individualism unlike the collective ways of Thatcherism and was much more like the pre-Beverage thinking. However, Tony Blair agreed with Thatcher’s view that people who claim benefits needed to pull their weight in society and he wanted to break away from the tax and spend economy. His efforts were aimed at pulling together to tackle social exclusion and poverty. Blair created more jobs which boosted the economy, he introduced the first national minimum wage in 1999 and in 2003 tax credits to help the most disadvantaged. Gordon Brown followed by bringing in Child Tax Credits in the hope to reduce child poverty, although at the time these means tested benefits were difficult to implement with many people not getting what they should have, they are still effective forms of support today. It is clear that there have been many landmarks in the development of our Social care and Welfare system from the early influences of the Christian poor law on our modern day benefits such as the Community Care grants and incapacity benefits that working class Britain still claim today to the New Labour tax credits that help millions of families all over the country. One ideology that has been consistent throughout the centuries is the notion of taxing the more fortunate working individuals and distributing it to the needy. Although attitudes towards looking after our nation’s poor have differed throughout the years and through the changes in power, it has always been an effective system and therefor remains. References:
The Rowntree Society. (2013). Seebohm Rowntree and Poverty. [Available:] http://www.rowntreesociety.org.uk/seebohm-rowntree-and-poverty/ [Last accessed] 1st March 2014. Society Politics. (2014). The Beverage Report. [Available:] http://society-politics.blurtit.com/65934/why-and-how-did-the-beverage-report-come-into-play-during-the-war [Last accessed] 1st March 2014.