Welfare State or Mixed Economy of Welfare?

Jane Lewis assess the arguments surrounding the British welfare state.

Historical writing about the British Welfare State has tended to stress the eventual triumph of collectivism over individualism, with Britain emerging from the darkness of the Poor Law into the light of the Beveridge Plan of 1942 and the post-war Welfare State. It is a story of linear development and progress. However, this story has been thrown into question by the apparent reversal of the late 1970s, which began with Labour prime minister James Callaghan's speech of 1976 in which he told the Labour Party’s Conference that governments could no longer expect to spend their way out of recessions and continued with Margaret Thatcher, who sought to diminish the role of the state in terms of both public expenditure and size of bureaucracy, and to promote the market, the voluntary sector and the family as providers of welfare.

We have therefore been forced to rethink the periodisation of the modern Welfare State: to what extent should the period 1945-76, which is coming to be called 'the classic Welfare State', be seen as exceptional rather than as some sort of culmination? More fundamentally still, we are also having to rethink the nature of the Welfare State.

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