Social Security, Class Struggle and the Reproduction of Capital

  • Norman Ginsburg
Part of the Critical Texts in Social Work and the Welfare State book series


In this and the following chapter we shall examine aspects of poor relief and social security administration and policy in England and Wales since the early nineteenth century. The terms poor relief and social security are generic terms, neither of which are really adequate, but we shall be concentrating here on cash payments by the parish or the state to those people variously defined as ‘in need’. Clearly such payments are a central pillar of the welfare state, which have saved many people from destitution and starvation. As long ago as 1921 social security expenditure formed 4.7 per cent of the gross national product, rising to 6.7 per cent in 1931 amidst mass unemployment. Such proportions were not reached again until the 1960s, but by 1975 it had reached 9.5 per cent.1 Social security has provided essential material support to working-class people who fall on hard times in a whole variety of circumstances. The growth in the level and coverage of benefits has been linked to the growth of working-class strength and organisation in the struggle towards the improvement of their living conditions. In that sense the social security system is a product of class struggle. It is unlikely that drastic cuts in the level of and eligibility for benefits would be possible aside from a general context of a massive defeat of the working class as a whole.


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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    For further discussion of the shape of welfare expenditures see I. Gough, The Political Economy of the Welfare State (London: Macmillan, 1979).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    E. Mandel, Late Capitalism (London: New Left Books, 1975) p. 151.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    The contribution and benefit record of every insured person and recipient of benefit is kept at the Longbenton office of DHSS in Newcastle, which is one of the largest office organisations in Europe, employing over 10,000 people. The contributory principle has thus created a whole army of clerks completely remote from their clientele, performing a highly routinised function in an almost Kafkaesque operation. See R. G. S. Brown, The Management of Welfare (London: Fontana, 1975) pp. 84–5.Google Scholar
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    E. Briggs and A. Deacon, ‘The Creation of the Unemployment Assistance Board’, Policy & Politics, vol. 2, no. 1 (1974) p. 51. This explains in part the shortfall between the numbers of registered unemployed and the numbers claiming relief and benefits on account of unemployment; see Table 3.1.Google Scholar
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    See M. Rein, ‘Work Incentives and Welfare Reform’ in Incentives and Planning in Social Policy, eds B. Stein and S. M. Miller (Chicago: Aldine, 1973).Google Scholar
  44. 95.
    J. W. Durcan and W. E. J. McCarthy, ‘The State Subsidy Theory of Strikes’, British Journal of Industrial Relations, vol. XXII (1974) p. 45.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Norman Ginsburg 1979

Authors and Affiliations

  • Norman Ginsburg
    • 1
  1. 1.CoventryUK

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