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Customer reviews

5.0 out of 5 stars
5.0 out of 5 stars

on 3 February 2003
This book sits rather oddly with others in the Institute of Economic Affairs Choice in Welfare Series. Whilst the sub-title 'Welfare before the Welfare State' suggests that this is an account of self-help swept away by the state the content is more contested arguing that the self-help which was available was confined to the skilled and semi-skilled working class rather than to all of the working classes at the time. This point of view is not particularly challenged, a fact which, given the genesis of the project, is surprising to say the least.
Before beveridge is a welcome addition to the literature about welfare before the state intervened in Britain. Contrary to the establishment history books which used to argue that the benevolent state stepped into a welfare vacuum, a number of studies have challenged this claim with books and scholarly articles demonstrating that the working classes were more than capable of providing education and welfare for their families by themselves as individuals and in groups long before the administrative machine moved in.
In this slim volume it seems that the editor and the staff at the IEA Health and Welfare Unit have rather abdicated the case for individual enterprise in welfare provision to those authors who put forward the view that in reality this provision was available to a select number of the working classes and the unorganised and the poor were not able to avail themselves of the opportunity. The so-called liberals appear to stand aside in the face of the attack and do not attempt to join battle with those propositions. I find the papers of Whiteside, Harris, Vincent and Thane to be particularly well researched and argued as well as persuasive given the paucity of David Green's paper especially.
The weakness of the writers who suggest that there was indeed a need for the intervention of the state in bringing welfare provision to the neediest in British society is the determination to overlook the evidence that many of the disenfranchised working classes who did not belong to either friendly societies or trades unions were determined to provide education for their children regardless of their personal circumstances. The fact that individuals of limited means were capable of identifying, by themselves, often without any education of their own, options for the betterment of their children over the longer term and were prepared to forego current onsumption to pay for it speaks volumes which significantly undermines the position supporting the need for state involvement.
This is a very thought provoking book which adds substantially to the lierature and which colours the debate about welfare provision more vividly than before. I would heartily recommend the book to sixth form and college students of history and social policy as well as practitioners of the black arts of social policy and policy-makers in general.
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