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'Continuous but limited.' How far do you agree with this view of changes in state provision for the poor in the period c.1830-1939?

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Introduction

2. 'Continuous but limited.' How far do you agree with this view of changes in state provision for the poor in the period c.1830-1939? To answer this question, we need to assess both the breadth of change which occurred in the period and the process of change itself. We often imagine that progress in a particular area happens smoothly and as a result of a definite plan, but how valid is this view in reality? And if there was continuous change, how far into real social change did it penetrate? If we view the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 as the beginning of the period, we have a framework for the treatment of the poor which, if the statement is true, should continue almost constantly to improve, but only in a limited way. To what extent, then, was there continuity after the 1834 Act? There were various modifications to the Poor Law through the latter part of the century, not as part of any grand strategy, but on an ad hoc basis in response to public need and opinion. ...read more.

Middle

While they may not have come as a shock in ideological terms (as Progressive Liberalism and the development of Socialism had been leaning towards more State provision for several decades), in terms of actual provision they represented a huge change, acknowledging for the first time that unemployment was sometimes inevitable and not a result of idleness, and providing real protection against sickness and incapacity. This causes problems for our definition of "continuity" - these significant reforms were introduced quickly, so our model of a gradually developing provision breaks down somewhat. As to whether they were limited, of course they were - if we are discussing state provision, everything short of Communism is limited to some extent! However, if "limited" is used with the intention of meaning "limited for their purpose" or "more limited than one would expect", we can consider its relevance to the Liberal Reforms. While they were not "unlimited", I believe that to describe them as limited is to take away from their huge importance, as they arguably paved the way for the Welfare State. ...read more.

Conclusion

It also created labour exchanges and created bodies to oversee the unemployed. Where does this leave our definition of 'continuous but limited'? Continuity had to be interrupted, and limits had to be applied. It would seem that the accuracy of the statement varies across the period, showing that it cannot be completely accurate throughout the timespan. While there were periods of continuity, where State provision seemed to increase incrementally, events such as the Liberal reforms constituted jolts forward, perhaps dragged along by public opinion. Similarly, the emergency circumstances created between the wars left little room for change which was gradual; later, there would be another jolt forward with the creation of the Welfare State. As to how limited or otherwise this change was, I have already discussed the problematic nature of this term, but I think that when applied to how much change there was, it is inaccurate; in 1830 Britain had a system of providing for its poor based on the whims of tyrannical overseers handing out 'outdoor relief' to save the poorest from starvation, and in 1939 we had a centralised, means-tested system well on its way to becoming the State that we know today. ...read more.

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