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Poverty and the Welfare State in Post-War Britain - Semester 2 - HIS00179H

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Chris Renwick
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

For 20 years after the Second World War – when, according to the Conservative Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan, many people in Britain had “never had it so good” – it was commonly believed that the welfare state had eradicated poverty. In the mid-1960s, however, politicians and the public were shocked by a very different picture: more than 10 million people living in either abject poverty or struggling to get by. These revelations, known as the “rediscovery of poverty”, initiated a far-reaching debate, changing the way poverty was understood and represented, as well as the ways Conservative and Labour governments alike tried to tackle it.

Utilising a wide range of primary source material, including political pamphlets, social policy documents, think tank papers, social scientists’ field notes, and television and film, this special subject explores these events and their impact on politics, society, and culture in Britain from the 1950s to the 1970s. In so doing, the module enables students to investigate questions about how poverty was studied and debated during the early years of the post-war welfare state, including controversies over how to define and measure poverty, the difficulties that different ideas about how to tackle it faced, and how new forms of campaigning transformed the way politics is done.

Related modules

Students taking this module must also take the first part in Semester 1.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2023-24

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To introduce students to in depth study of a specific historical topic using primary and secondary material;
  • To enable students to explore the topic through discussion and writing; and
  • To enable students to evaluate and analyse primary sources.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Grasp key themes, issues and debates relevant to the topic being studied;
  • Have acquired knowledge and understanding about that topic;
  • Be able to comment on and analyse original sources;
  • Be able to relate the primary and secondary material to one another; and
  • Have acquired skills and confidence in close reading and discussion of texts and debates.

Module content

Students will attend a 3-hour seminar in weeks 2-4, 6-8 and 10-11 of semester 2. Weeks 5 & 9 are Reading and Writing Weeks (RAW). Students prepare for and participate in eight three-hour seminars in all. A one-to-one meeting between tutor and students will also be held to discuss assessments.

Seminar topics are subject to variation, but are likely to include the following:

  1. The Poor and the Poorest (1965) and relative poverty
  2. Single mothers, children, and large families: social research in the public sphere
  3. Poverty on stage and screen in the 1960s
  4. “The poverty lobby”: the welfare state and pressure group politics.
  5. Reforming the welfare state: selectivity and universalism in political debate
  6. Administering the welfare state: negative income tax and tax credits in the early 1970s
  7. Keith Joseph and the cycle of deprivation
  8. Health inequalities: a new frontier?


Task Length % of module mark
4,000 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

For formative assessment, students submit an essay draft of 2000-words.

For summative assessment, students complete a 4000-word essay relating to the themes and issues of the module. This comprises 100% of the overall module mark. Summative assessments will be due in the assessment period.


Task Length % of module mark
4,000 word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will receive a one-to-one meeting with the tutor to discuss the essay and their plans for the assessed essay.

Work will be returned to students with written comments in their tutorial and may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to make use of their tutor’s student hours. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For summative assessment tasks, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 25 working days of the submission deadline. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For semester time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

  • Pat Thane, Divided Kingdom: A History of Britain, 1900 to the Present (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018).
  • Peter Sloman, Transfer State: The Idea of a Guaranteed Income and the Politics of Redistribution in Modern Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019).
  • John Welshman, The Underclass: A History of the Excluded Since 1880 (London: Bloomsbury, 2013).

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.