NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 3, 2005

What was life like in Great Britain before there was a welfare state' As it turns out, it wasn't all that bad, according to journalist James Bartholomew, in his book, "The Welfare State We're In."

For example:

  • Of seven million British industrial workers in 1892, six million were members of friendly societies, which offered private protection against an untimely death, illnesses, old age and unemployment.
  • In the mid-19th century, before the advent of compulsory public schools, 95 percent of children received from five to seven years of education in homes, church schools and other for-profit and elementary-age institutions.
  • Middle-class families in the Victorian era gave up to 10 percent of their incomes to charity (Dickens' character, Scrooge, was the exception, not the rule); by contrast, modern-day Britons give less than 1 percent.
  • Before there was a British national health service, there was a little evidence of people dying or suffering disabilities from lack of medical care.

Other surprises: the term "cradle to grave" was coined by Winston Churchill, who created the first national unemployment insurance scheme in the world. And many of the excesses of the welfare state occurred because the intentions of the founders were ignored:

  • The social security plan proposed by William Beveridge involved no redistribution; everyone was to pay the same flat-rate contribution and receive the same flat-rate benefit in case of illness, retirement or unemployment.
  • The benefit proposed by Beveridge was a subsistence payment -- lower than what the government had been paying -- in order not to discourage private provision of relief.

Source: James Bartholomew, "The Welfare State We're In," Politico's Publishing, April 15, 2005.


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