War and Welfare in the 1940s

  • Derek Fraser


IF the essential theme of the 1930s had been selectivity, that of the 1940s was universalism. That specious universalism which in 1931 had required the unemployed to share in the national sacrifice by a 10 per cent cut in income did not hide the fact that society and social policy were riddled with arbitrary distinctions and selective treatment. Just as unemployment was uneven in its impact, making it an experience depressingly familiar to specific regions and industries, so too the evolving services were uneven in coverage. Accidents of classification vitally affected the nature and scope of the services available. Insured workers were covered for unemployment, sickness, medical, old age, widows’ and orphans’ benefits, non-insured workers were not; insured workers had free access to a doctor, their families did not; a sick man received less financial aid during his incapacity for work than one who was unemployed; the unemployed were selectively treated, for twenty-six weeks by the insurance scheme, then by the U.A.B., but a minority of 4o,ooo ablebodied msn who were technically not normally in insurable occupations were left with the Poor Law; non-contributory pensioners over seventy were subjected to a means test, contributory pensioners were not. Common social conditions did not produce common social security benefits as classification and technical qualifications had usurped need as the determining factor. The war was to have decisive influence in producing a common experience and universal treatment for it. George v had reiterated the need to re-create the political will to solve gigantic problems which had characterised the years 1914-18 and had advised Lloyd George in 1921 and Ramsay MacDonald in 1931 to tackle unemployment as though it were a crisis of war proportions. The Second World War did in fact generate the political and social determination to overcome enormous difficulties, and in its wake the spirit and practice of universalism affected the course of social policy.


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© Derek Fraser 1984

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  • Derek Fraser

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