Social policy by other means? Mutual aid and the origins of the modern welfare state in Britain during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries

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During the last twenty years, several writers have drawn attention to the role played by friendly societies and other mutual-aid organisations in the development of Britain’s welfare state. Proponents of mutual aid have argued that these organisations were part of the rich associational culture of working-class life; that they represented a viable alternative to state welfare; and that they were eventually undermined by it. However, this paper highlights the challenges which these organisations were already facing towards the end of the nineteenth century as a result of changes in working-class culture and the rise of more commercial insurance agencies. It suggests that the rise of state welfare was not so much a cause of these difficulties as a response to them. It also examines the role which friendly societies played in the expansion of welfare services after 1914 and their attitude to calls for further expansion before 1945.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)202-235
Number of pages34
JournalJournal of Policy History
Issue number2
Early online date8 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 2018


  • friendly societies
  • welfare state
  • voluntarism
  • mutual aid


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