Annals of the Society for the History of Economic Thought
Online ISSN : 1884-7366
Print ISSN : 0453-4786
ISSN-L : 0453-4786
A History of Social Policy Thought in Britain
on Poverty and Unemployment in the Early 20th Century
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2001 Volume 40 Issue 40 Pages 13-23


The perspective offered by Pat Thane in the “Mixed Economy of Welfare” will necessarily introduce a new point of view into the history of social policy thought in Britain. The purpose of this paper is to try to clarify the interrelationship between some of the thoughts concerning social policy in the early 20th century from this point of view, especially around issues of poverty and unemployment as addressed in the “Report of the Poor Law Committee” (1909) and the “Liberal Reform” (1908-11).
It has been understood that the Bosanquets and the Webbs confronted each other in the “Poor Law Committee” because the former based their thinking on an individualistic view of poverty, while the latter were Socialists. However the two parties' views coincided on both the issue of interference with paupers, and on the extension of “Collectivism” (trade unions, co-operation, friendly societies) to ordinary men, believing that this was necessary. Their differences lay in the way they wanted to approach this interference, the Bosanquets through charity and social work, the Webbs through state interference to the men below the national minimum standard.
However, the New Liberalists (J. A. Hobson, L. T. Hobhouse) and W. H. Beveridge were opposed to interfering with individual men in general, and insisted on social insurance. The New Liberalists depended on the “optimism of human progress”, while Beveridge relied on the “market mechanism” and on “rational economic man”. But both sought new relationships between the state and collectivism.
Views on the division of function between the state and collectivism were shared by all of the parties discussed in this paper. This may be the common feature of British social policy thinking in the early 20th century.

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