Boyer, George, The Winding Road to the Welfare State: Economic Insecurity and Social Welfare Policy in Britain. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018. 384 pages. Hardcover. $45.00.
Economic historian George Boyer begins his ambitious study, The Winding Road to the Welfare State: Economic Insecurity and Social Welfare in Britain, with the bold proclamation that his work aims to "rewrite the history of working class living standards and the growth of government social welfare policies in Britain since 1834" (p. 24). At the heart of Boyer's argument is his contention that Britain's approach to state welfare between 1830 and 1950 is incomprehensible without considering the ebbs and flows of standards of living for British workers. To demonstrate his assertions, Boyer divides his book into two principle sections that hinge upon major milestones in the evolution of British Welfare policies: The New Poor Law of 1834 and the Liberal Welfare Reforms of 1906-11.
Part I chronicles the legislation--and the philosophies guiding it--that framed Britain's approach to public welfare through the majority of the Victorian Age. Here, Boyer demonstrates that the British Government intended the New Poor Law to inaugurate a novel era of self-help, wherein manual workers might guard themselves against unemployment and income loss by increasing their savings and joining friendly societies; yet, Boyer shows these measures were insufficient to carry laborers through the economic crises of the Victorian age. Though the New Poor Law did result in expanded savings among the working classes, laborers rarely had enough to survive the perils of unemployment for more than a few weeks before being forced to seek refuge in the Poor Law which, Boyer argues, was insufficient in meeting public needs. These developments, combined with the inefficiency of charitable institutions, resulted in a "breakdown" of the Poor Law in the 1860s (p. 73).
According to the author, Britain's middle classes and government elite were aware that the New Poor Law was not working--the lessons of the economic turmoil of the "Hungry" 1840s and, especially, the 1860s had taught them that; yet these realizations were taken by contemporaries not as evidence of the deficiencies of the law, but as an indication that British workers were not being responsible, saving less than they needed in spite of continually rising wages. Such widely held assumptions among the middle classes resulted in...