The Eureka Moment? The creation of the British Welfare State

Martin Powell


This article explores when the welfare state was established in Britain. First it examines the definitions of the welfare state, before turning to outline the methods and criteria used in exploring the establishment of welfare states. It then discusses the criteria that have been applied to the British case (expenditure; legislation; content; social citizenship; antithesis of the Poor Law) before critically analysing the arguments for different creation periods for the British welfare state (Old Poor Law; nineteenth century; Liberal reforms; inter-war period; 1945; later periods). It is concluded that while the strongest case and the greatest number of dimensions suggest 1945, in the words of T H Marshall: ‘we may still be in doubt what was the exact combination of circumstances in Britain in the 1940's which evoked that cry of "Eureka !’

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