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Online exhibits: Freedom from Want

The welfare state is today one of the mainstays of the British political system. But the view that the state has a duty to look after its citizens only became firmly established within living memory.

For many centuries there was little or no safety net against poverty and illness. There was certainly no right to it. The industrial age saw extensive poverty amongst a rapidly expanding urban population. As moral and political pressure for reform built across society the government's role in providing a safety net gradually increased. After World War II, Labour swept to power on the promise of a 'cradle to grave' welfare state.

Recent surveys have shown a widening gap between rich and poor. Debate continues today about what the state should provide and how it should be funded.

Some significant stops on the route of Freedom from Want

1601 The Poor Law places administration of the poor with the parishes
1723 Workhouse Test Act obliged poor to enter a workhouse
1799 Trades Unions outlawed
1833 Factory Act restricts working hours for women and children
1834 New Poor Law introduced
1880 Education becomes compulsory for children under 10
1891 Poverty map of London compiled by Charles Booth
1908 Parliament approves Old Age Pensions
1911 National Insurance scheme introduced; National Insurance Act passed
1926 General Strike involves 1.8m workers
1936 Jarrow Hunger March
1942 The Beveridge Report lays foundation for Welfare State
1948 National Health Service established

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