Bread for All: The Origins of the Welfare State by Chris Renwick

Review published on September 13, 2017.

If you were to ask many people about social reform in the past they would refer to the post-Second World War reforms of the Labour government, who were reflecting people’s hopes for the future. When we fast forward to today the common argument about our welfare state is that something has gone badly wrong.

If you are unaware of the history of social reform and the welfare state, then Bread for All explores the history, bringing it up to the problems of today. One thing that is clear is that social reform and how to deal with the welfare of those of need is nothing new, and similar debates have been going on for well over two hundred years.

The historian Chris Renwick challenges the many assumptions that people hold about the welfare state and social reform and how by looking back we can look forward. Sometimes, while reading this book, you feel that the politician’s names may have changed but some of the attitudes have not, especially concerning the health of the nation.

The book takes us back to when the Poor Laws were originally created in 1601 under Elizabeth I and the various transitions that it has gone through and how the 1834 reform act was created to answer the problems of the agricultural economy, but by 1850 it was not fit for purpose with the new industrialisation and the many changes that Britain underwent during the Victorian period.

One of the most fascinating periods for social reform and welfare was from 1900 to the creation of the welfare state after the Second World War, dealing not only with how to deal with unemployment, but housing and the soldiers that came home from all the wars that Britain involved itself in – using the Boer War as the spur for social change as the working classes became the subject of speculation that they simply were not physically fit enough and posed a threat to the fabric of the nation.

This is an excellent book for those who are social historians as well as those who have a general interest in the development of welfare and welfare reform. Simply an excellent book.

Paul Diggett 5/5

Bread for All: The Origins of the Welfare State by Chris Renwick
Allen Lane 9780241186688 hbk Sep 2017

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