Why so Austere? The British Welfare State of the 1940s
JIM TOMLINSON a1Professor of Economic History a1 Department of Government, Brunei University
The reforms of the welfare system under the 1945 Labour government
are usually regarded as fundamental in creating the post-war welfare
state. Yet, measured by their financial implications, and viewed in
comparison with either pre-war Britain or other Western European countries
in the same period, these reforms appear strikingly limited. Far from
bringing a ‘New Jerusalem’, the 1940s reforms
seem to have brought
into being an austere, minimalist structure of welfare provision.
The reasons for this are examined, especially the forces shaping
the new social
security system. It is argued that the combination of the Labour
economic priorities, its acceptance of the Beveridge legacy and the
Treasury pressure to limit the Exchequer's financial contribution
to the new system, led to this austerity.