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Unit information: Social Policy and the Welfare State: Historical Perspectives in 2018/19

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Unit name Social Policy and the Welfare State: Historical Perspectives
Unit code SPOL10011
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Lart
Open unit status Not open




School/department School for Policy Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


This unit will provide an introduction to the history of British social policy from the Poor Law, through the establishment of the post-war Welfare State, to the end of the Coalition government of 2010-15. It will focus on key areas of social policy such as poverty and social exclusion, health, housing, education, employment and criminal justice. It builds on the earlier mandatory unit ‘Ideologies and concepts of welfare in the contemporary world’ by using the framework of ideologies explained in that unit to analyse the development of British social policy over the historical period covered.
It is organised into three main parts. The first introduces the student to the wider social and economic context of the period covered, and reviews the ideologies of welfare covered in the earlier unit. The second part provides an overview of the evolution of the British Welfare State, providing the historical narrative from the debates around pauperism in the early nineteenth century, through to the end of the Coalition government of 2010 – 15, and showing the development of underlying ideologies and how they manifest in policy. The third section returns to look in detail at specific policy areas, and will explore key points in their histories.

The unit aims:

• To introduce students to the history of British social policy
• To enable students to understand how and why we have the social institutions of welfare that we do.
• To enable students to understand the ways in which ideology has informed the development of those institutions.

Intended learning outcomes

Students who successfully complete this unit will be able to demonstrate:

  • An understanding of the history of British social policy from the beginning of the 19th century, including the origins and development of UK welfare institutions, and the social and demographic contexts in which they have operated
  • An understanding of non-governmental sources of welfare in that period, and of the relationship between different sectors of the mixed economy of welfare
  • The ability to distinguish and critically evaluate different approaches to understanding social problems and issues in that period, and how these are reflected in policy

Teaching details

Lectures and seminars

Assessment Details

Assessment will be against the programme criteria defined for the appropriate level.

Formative assessment: One essay up to 2000 words

Summative assessment : One essay up to 2500 words (100%). The essay will allow the student to demonstrate having met all the learning outcomes of the unit.

Reading and References

  • Daunton, M (2007) Wealth and Welfare: an economic and social history of Britain 1851-1951 Oxford University Press
  • Fraser, D (2009) The Evolution of the British Welfare State Palgrave Macmillan
  • Harris, B (2004) The Origins of the British Welfare State 1800 – 1945 Palgrave Macmillan
  • Thane, P (1996) The Foundations of the Welfare State Longman
  • Glennerster, H (2007) British Social Policy:1945 to the present Oxford : Blackwell
  • Lowe, R. (2005) The Welfare State in Britain since 1945. Macmillan