I had difficulty for a while finding a long-run history of social security so I was glad to find England’s Road to Social Security by Karl de Schweinitz. Despite its pro-welfare state bias, it also describes very well those people who opposed state welfare over the centuries and the important, international dimension of the early history of welfare. I doff my cap, similarly, to The Five Giants by Nicholas Timmins. It explicitly starts from the belief that the welfare state is a good thing but is an excellent, highly-readable account of the politics of welfare since the second world war
The Report from His Majesty’s Commissioners for inquiring into the administration and practical operation of the Poor Laws 1834 is an extraordinary document, quite unlike any modern government report, bringing to life the welfare state of that time through real stories. I bought an original copy on the internet – the beginning of a small collection of welfare state memorabilia. Another treasured original document I have acquired is a copy of the Labour Party pamphlet arguing for a National Service for Health published in 1943 – a cleverly argued case but one which reveals, without intending to, just how little was wrong with the old system.
No single author has been more important to me than David Green. Again and again, his work has provided the vital evidence. Reinventing Civil Society (IEA 1993) showed how important friendly societies were before the welfare state hammered them. His essay in Re-privatising welfare: After the Lost Century (IEA 1996) on voluntary (or charitable) hospitals showed how signficant they, too, were. Subsequently he did much to expose how the NHS compares badly with other countries in its results and how it discriminates against the old.
In Re-privatising Welfare is also an essay by the late, great E.G.West who described how well education was developing without the state in the 19th century. His book, Education without the State, is a classic. His description of how politicians are tempted to do things that are unnecessary and meretricious is clinically devastating. In modern times, the work of James Tooley has been very important in showing that independent education can be for the poor as well as the rich.
Losing Ground by Charles Murray has been a seminal work in suggesting that a welfare state can damage a society, written in a dry, logical, compelling way by a first class brain. Aneurin Bevan, by Michael Foot is superbly written in a quite different style – with passion and even love. The only problem, of course, is the author’s blindness to the disaster the NHS became.
Frank Field, Molly Meacher and Chris Pond wrote a very important book in To Him Who Hath. It revealed something which has become even more true subsequently: that the poor are highly taxed. That, as they remind us, was not the original idea.
I rather dreaded reading The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell but the book surprised me by being brilliant and inspiring. Orwell was a socialist but his honesty and intelligence as a reporter meant that he sometimes revealed the failings of the welfare state in a particularly penetrating way. It would be wonderful if someone in modern times could get close to the lives of low-paid people as he did and report them so well.
Alexander Fleming by Gwyn Macfarlane, despite its name, is an extended demand that Howard Florey, not Fleming, should get the main credit for bringing penicillin to the world. Penicillin – perhaps the most important drug of the 20th century – was discovered and developed in Britain prior to the creation of the National Health Service.
Life without Father by David Popenoe is a persuasive account of the importance of fatherhood and marriage to children.
The remarkable thing about Family and Kinship in East London by Michael Young and Peter Wilmott is the honest responsiveness of the authors to what they found. They set out to research one thing and then when they discovered something else that was interesting, they changed the whole focus of their work.
All these books and others can be bought second-hand through Abebooks.com or new and sometimes second-hand through any of the Amazon.co.uk links in the left-hand column.
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