Views & Reviews Past Caring

Work not welfare

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 10 November 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6371
  1. Wendy Moore, freelance writer and author, London
  1. wendymoore{at}

When the spiralling cost of welfare benefits troubled the Victorians, a coalition of two unlikely partners came to the rescue. They hailed from different worlds. But the middle class civil servant Edwin Chadwick, who was a firm advocate of liberal, free market principles, and the Eton and Oxford educated Nassau Senior, who was a hardline economist, found common ground in reforming the welfare system.

Under the prevailing Elizabethan poor law the 15 000 parishes in England and Wales were each responsible for providing relief to their own poor people, paid for by local taxes. As well as helping sick and elderly people, parishes dispensed funds to unemployed people, and some even topped up low wages …

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