Churchill Archive for Schools - Themes_Key questions_welfare reforms i

Why did British politicians see the need for welfare reforms in the early 1900s?

Source 7

Letter from senior Liberal Party politician Sydney Buxton to Winston Churchill, January 1909


CHAR 2/39/13

Simplified Transcript

My dear Churchill

I’ve looked at the proposed scheme for National Insurance for workers and I think it looks very good. I think we should get the King to refer to it in his speech so that people know what we intend to do. This will help us to answer criticisms from Labour that we’re not doing enough to help workers. I admit it’ll be costly so we shouldn’t make too big an issue out of it.

Original Transcript

His Majesty’s Post Master General
General Post Office,
Jan 30 1909

My dear Churchill
I have been carefully studying the various papers etc in reference to “unemployment insurance”.
The scheme seems to me (subject to a few details) quite watertight. But that being so, & it being a workable scheme, I have a strong opinion that a reference, however vague, should be made to it in the K[ing’s] Speech.
If not, I fear that omission [leaving out] of any reference to the reform of the Poor Law, & the omission of any proposal to deal with unemployment, & the proposal merely to institute Labour Bureaux (very poor in itself) will give rise to disappointment, & possibly to ridicule, as inadequate. Further the Labour Party pressing for more, will, when, and if this or another scheme is introduced, claim (as usual) all the credit for it.
The Budget question is I admit a difficulty, & clearly this Bill should not be introduced until after the Budget - but a reference to it in the K[ing’s] Speech would surely do us no harm.
I have written in above sense to Asquith.
Yours ever,
Sidney Buxton
I shall be very glad to do anything I can to help in the question of “unemployed Insurance”.
The U[nemployment] Insurance scheme and the L[abour] Business are largely dependent the one on the other. ...

What is this source?

This is a letter written to Churchill in 1909 by a senior Liberal, Sydney Buxton, commenting on proposals for an insurance scheme to protect working people against sickness, accident and unemployment.

Background to this source

By 1909 Churchill was a leading figure in the Liberal Party and was a government minister in charge of the Board of Trade. He would soon go on to become Home Secretary. He and the Chancellor David Lloyd George were very much in favour of a plan to introduce welfare reforms. Churchill was especially keen on Labour Exchanges to help the unemployed find work and a national insurance scheme which would provide money to workers to tide them over in hard times. The measure being discussed was eventually introduced in 1911.

The letter refers to the proposals but it also refers to the King’s Speech. This is a speech written by the government but read out by the monarch at the start of each Parliament explaining what they planned to do.

How can we use this source in the investigation?

Remember, we’re hoping that this source can be useful to us in investigating why British politicians began to see the need for welfare reforms in this period. Sources usually help historians in two ways:

Surface level

  1. What does Buxton think of the plan for unemployment insurance?
  2. What else is he proposing about the King’s Speech and why?
  3. What is his attitude towards the Labour Party?
  4. What does he say about the Budget and why?

Deeper level

Which of the inferences below can be made from this source?

  On a scale of 1-5 how far do you agree that this source supports this inference? Which extract(s) from the source support your argument?
This source shows us that the Liberals were worried about the Labour Party.    
Unemployment insurance was going to be expensive.    
Insurance was going to be controversial.    

Download table (PDF)
Download table (Word document)

Need help interpreting the source?

  • The context of this source is vital to understanding how historians can use it. It was written at a time when Hitler had reached a series of agreements and broken each one in turn. Opinion in the US and Canada was very anti-German but also critical of the British government for allowing Hitler to make so many gains.
  • Lord Runciman was the head of a British delegation which was sent to investigate the Sudetenland situation in 1938. He was widely believed to have been a Nazi sympathiser.It was also widely believed that he had reported back to the British government on the Sudetenland situation in a way which was favourable to Hitler and those Germans in the Sudetenland who wanted to be joined to Germany.

Source 8

Back to sources page

Back to investigation page