Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
From Poor Law to Welfare State: Poverty and Welfare in Modern Britain, 1815-1948
Academic Year
Semester 2
Mutually Exclusive
Other Staff

Course Delivery



Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Exam 2 Hours   50%
Semester Assessment (2,500 words)  50%
Supplementary Exam 2 Hours   50%
Supplementary Assessment (2,500 words)  50%

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

1. Engage with the many historiographical debates that have characterised historical work on poverty and social welfare;

2. Assess the ideas and debates that characterized the creation and implementation of social policy;

3. Evaluate the impact of social policies on ordinary people;

4. Place social welfare developments in their longer-temr social, economic and political contexts.

Brief description

This course will survey the history of poverty and social welfare in nineteenth and twentieth-century Britain and will consider efforts to eradicate the five ‘giant evils’ of Want, Ignorance, Disease, Squalor and Idleness. It will focus on these developments in their social, economic and political contexts. The development of centrally provided welfare services and the corresponding extension of the state into various aspects of people’s lives was an important feature of this period. And yet central government was, for much of the period, merely one among a number of welfare providers. The state, the voluntary sector, the family and the market were all involved in providing welfare services. The course will examine the ‘moving frontier’ between the state and these other providers of welfare and will consider the practical, social and political implications of increasing state intervention.

Themes to be studied include: the expansion of state responsibility for individual welfare; welfare provision as a result of political conflict and consensus; the gendered nature of welfare; the attitudes and responses of the working class to social welfare; the impact of war on official and popular attitudes to social reform; the significance of welfare policies for changing standards of living. An integral aspect of the course will be the examination of primary sources including official papers, social surveys and social policy tracts.


Lecture syllabus

2.The ‘Old’ Poor Law
3.The ‘New’ Poor Law
4.Housing in Victorian Britain
5.Voluntarism and Philanthropy
6.Self-Help and Mutual Aid
7.The Crusade Against Out-Relief
8. The Discovery of Poverty: Social Surveys and Poverty Lines
9.Eugenics and the Deterioration of the Race
10. The New Philanthropy
11. Edwardian Social Reform
12. The First World War
13. A Land Fit For Heroes?: Post-War Reconstruction
14. Interwar Economic Depression and Mass Unemployment
15. The Home Front during the Second World War
16. The Attlee Administration
17. Health Services, 1900-48
18. Conclusion

1. The ‘Mixed Economy of Care’ and the ‘Moving Frontier of Welfare’
2. The Poor Law
3. Welfare and the Working Class
4. Welfare and gender
5. Welfare and party politics
6. The ‘Classic’ Welfare State, 1945-51.

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Application of Number Statistical data on poverty and other matters will be presented in the form of tables, graphs and figures in lectures, and students will need to demonstrate a basic grasp of quantitative material in their written work.
Communication Written communication skills will be developed through the coursework and written examination; skills in oral presentation will be developed in seminars but are not formally assessed.
Improving own Learning and Performance Students will be advised on how to improve research and communication skills through the individual tutorial providing feedback on submitted coursework.
Information Technology Students will be encouraged to locate suitable material on the web and to apply it appropriately to their own work. Students will also be expected to word-process their work and make use of Blackboard. These skills will not be formally assessed.
Personal Development and Career planning Students will develop a range of transferable skills, including time management and communication skills, which may help them identify their personal strengths as they consider potential career paths.
Problem solving Students are expected to note and respond to historical problems which arise as part of the study of this subject area and to undertake suitable research for seminars and essays.
Research skills Students will develop their research skills by reading a range of texts and evaluating their usefulness in preparation for the coursework and the written examination.
Subject Specific Skills
Team work Students will be expected to play an active part in group activities (e.g. short group presentations in seminars) and to learn to evaluate their own contribution to such activities.


This module is at CQFW Level 5