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The Welfare State

Questions to prepare for seminar:

  1. What did the post-1945 welfare state seek to achieve?
  2. Was the post-war welfare state the result of long-term evolution more than war-borne revolution?
  3. Did the welfare state see a new relationship between the British state and its citizens?
  4. Has there been a tendency to underplay the ‘warfare’ character of the British state that emerged out of the Second World War?

 Core Reading:

  • James Cronin, 'The British State and the Structure of Political Opportunity', Journal of British Studies, 27 (1988), 199-231.
  • A. Marshall, Citizenship and Social Class (1950): copies available via web.
  • David Edgerton, ‘The Prophet Militant and Industrial: the Peculiarities of Corelli Barnett’, 20th Century British History, 2 (1991), 360-79.


Further Reading:

  • The emergence of the Welfare State has often been depicted as the product of a new wartime consensus on the tide of social solidarity, with the national identity something which would now be found through a new relationship to the state: R. Titmuss, Problems of Social Policy (1950). However in recent years the idea of a consensus has been placed under critical scrutiny: Rodney Lowe, 'The Second World War: Consensus and the Foundation of the British Welfare State', Twentieth Century British History, 1 (1990); K. Jefferys, 'British Politics and Social Policy during the Second World War', Historical Journal, 30 (1987); B. Pimlott, ‘The Myth of Consensus’ in L.M. Smith (ed.), The Making of Britain (1988), 129-42; Martin Francis, 'Set the People Free? Conservatives and the State, 1920-1960', in Bargielowska & Francis (eds.), The Conservative Party and British Society. Recent work has also emphasised the historical and continuing suspicion of the state on the right and also to an extent at a popular level: Pat Thane, 'The Working Class and State "Welfare" in Britain, 1880-1914', Historical Journal, 27 (1984); J. Harris, ‘Did British Workers want the Welfare State?’, in J. Winter (ed.), The Working Class in Modern British History (1983).
  • For the view that wartime evacuation (often regarded as a symbol of cross-class solidarity) revealed the deep divisions of British society: J. Macnicol, ‘The Effect of Evacuation of Children of School Age on Attitudes to State Intervention’in H.L. Smith (ed.), War and Social Change: British Society in the Second World War (1986), 3-31; John Welshman, ‘Evacuation and Social Policy during the Second World War: Myth and Reality’, 20th Century British History, 9 (1998), 28-53
  • Questioning the degree to which the welfare state emerged out of a new vision for the relationship between citizen and state: Jose Harris, ‘Political Thought and the Welfare State, 1870-1940: An Intellectual Framework for British Social Policy’, Past & Present, 135 (1992). Also on pre-war citizenship: Brad Beaven and John Griffiths, ‘Creating the Exemplary Citizen: The Changing Notion of Citizenship in Britain, 1870-1939’, Contemporary British History, 22 (2008), 203-25. On the persistence of voluntarism: G. Finlayson, ‘A Moving Frontier: Voluntarism and the State in British Social Welfare, 1911-1949’, Twentieth Century British History, 1 (1990), 183-206.
  • On the degree to which war pushed Britain to embrace state intervention: Jose Harris, ‘War and Social History: Britain and the Home Front during the Second World War’, Contemporary European History, 1 (1992), 17-35.
  • For a useful overview of the Welfare State within a longer framework: James Cronin, 'The British State and the Structure of Political Opportunity', Journal of British Studies, 27 (1988), 199-231; Jose Harris, 'Society and State in Twentieth Century Britain', in F.M.L. Thompson (ed.), Cambridge Social History of Britain, Vol. 3 James Cronin, The Politics of State Expansion (1991); Paul Johnson, 'The Role of the State in Twentieth Century Britain' (chapter 27) in Johnson (ed.), 20th Century Britain; Bernard Harris, The Origins of the British Welfare State (2004)
  • For post-war development of the welfare state: Rodney Lowe, 'Postwar Welfare', in Paul Johnson (ed.), 20th Century Britain; Martin Francis, 'Set the People Free? Conservatives and the State, 1920-1960', in Bargielowska & Francis (eds.), The Conservative Party and British Society; J. Stevenson, 'The Jersusalem that Failed? The Rebuilding of Post-War Britain', in T. Gourvish & A. O'Day (eds.), British History since 1945 (1991); Rodney Lowe, The Welfare State since 1945 (1993); Paul Johnson, 'The Welfare State' in R. Floud & D. McCloskey (ed.), The Economic History of Britain since 1700. Volume 3 (1994); Nicholas Timmins, The Five Giants: A Biography of the Welfare State (1995).
  • Implicitly challenging the picture of a liberal state: for the idea that Britain was a ‘warfare state’ in the period: David Edgerton, Warfare State: Britain, 1920-1970 (2006). By contrast, attacking the liberal nature of the wartime and post-war state: Correlli Barnett, The Audit of War: The Illusion and Reality of Britain as a Great Nation (1987); Correlli Barnett, Lost Victory: British Dreams and British Realities, 1945-1950 (1996). For emerging work on cold war Britain: Matthew Grant, After the Bomb: Civil Defence and Nuclear War in Cold War Britain (2010). For accounts of the secret state: Peter Hennessy, The Secret State: Whitehall and the Cold War (2003); Chris Moran, Classified: Secrecy and the State in Modern Britain (2012).