Labour History Review

A Blessing or a Curse? Working-Class Attitudes to State Welfare Programmes in Britain 1919–1939

Labour History Review (2009), 74, (2), 160–184.

Abstract

The theme of the article is working-class attitudes towards state welfare measures in the interwar period in Britain. Its focus is the East End of London, a working-class ghetto with large Irish and Jewish immigrant communities. Using a range of original sources, including the direct testimony of residents and the views of local social workers, Medical Officers of Health, borough councillors and newspaper reporters, the article finds that for most of the 1920s, East End residents were suspicious of state welfare services, equating them with the Poor Law that they avoided like the plague. It was only during the 1930s when unemployment spread and voluntary and mutual aid societies were unable to meet their needs that male unemployed workers and the younger generation of mothers and working women took advantage of state services. Of these, the most committed were those who had served in World War I, belonged to a trade union or to the Labour Party.

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Author details

Graves, Pamela