As touched on in the previous “What is Social Policy” post there are a lot of problems with the “standard” history of the welfare state in the UK after 1945. In particular, it tends to valorise the achievements between 1945 and 1951 (the first post-war Labour government), ignoring that although this government passed a number of important Acts of parliament, implementation of a lot of these measures was slow due to economic problems in the country.
It also creates a myth that until 1979 we lived in some sort of social democratic utopia, where there was no inequality and everyone lived happily. If you speak to someone who was still living in a house or flat without a bathroom as late as the 1980s; or who lived in poverty on National Assistance in the 1950s; or who was the victim of structural racism when accessing services, then you might get a very different impression of the successes of the post-war welfare state.
It is this lack of criticality in these discussions that led me, as module coordinator, to remove the “bog-standard” history of the welfare state question from coursework and exams. Reading endless essays about “the Five Giants” was interminably dull; and also a lot of the essays were uncritical and poor quality.
To begin getting you to think about the contingency of the welfare state, I’ve recorded this podcast with my mum. She was born in 1947, a year before the founding of the National Health Service, and her life is intertwined very closely with the development of the welfare state since 1945.
They’ll be quite a few podcasts over the coming weeks. Like the video in the introduction post, all this media can be downloaded and used however you like – the easiest way is to click on the files tab on the left and download them from there, or click here. You can then listen to it, or watch it, whenever and wherever you like. I hope you like my mum.
In the rest of these posts, I will outline why we do need to know something about the history of the welfare state since 1945, but without obsessing about it.