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 8

Unsent draft letter from Winston Churchill’s secretary to a correspondent on the subject of National Insurance, dated September 1912


CHAR 2/57/49

Simplified Transcript

Dear Sir

Mr Churchill thanks you for your letter but believes that the complaints you made about National Insurance are very small and aren’t important compared to the problems that National Insurance is trying to tackle.
If Britain is to compete with states like Germany in war or in business then some people have to make sacrifices. You’re being asked to make very small sacrifices.

Original Transcript

Dear Sir

Mr Churchill begs me to acknowledge the receipt of your letter and to say in reply that the points you urge taken at their fullest value seem to him very small ones compared to the gigantic evils and miseries with which the Insurance Act has attempted to deal.
We cannot expect to maintain ourselves in competition either in peace or with a great people like the Germans, unless we are prepared to make the sacrifices in the cause of national well-being which discipline and organisation require.
Mr Churchill hopes that you will never have any more serious grievances than those described in your letter.

Yours faithfully

What is this source?

This is a draft letter prepared by a secretary for Churchill in reply to a letter he’d received about National Insurance.

Background to this source

Throughout the period 1906 to 1922 the Liberal Party introduced a range of welfare reforms including National Insurance. This measure arrived in 1911. Although it was popular among many, the Insurance Act also had its critics.

Trade unions criticised the Act because workers had to make a compulsory contribution to their insurance fund. Other groups resented the intrusion of the state into their lives. Employers disliked having to pay into the fund, too. One of the most vocal groups were middle-class families who employed servants. They bitterly resented having to contribute to the insurance fund of their employees.

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 is Churchill’s response to the letter writer?
  2. What reasons does he give for his response?

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?
Churchill is quite rude in this reply.    
We don’t have the original letter here and this reply wasn’t sent so this source is useless to historians.    
This letter gives us an insight into why Churchill was interested in welfare reforms.    

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Need help interpreting the source?

  • At the time this letter was written the Liberal government had brought in a number of welfare reforms. School Meals (1906) and Old Age Pensions (1908) were the most high profile. Churchill was eager to extend the welfare provision offered by the government, including Labour Exchanges and National Insurance.
  • National Insurance proved to be very controversial, mainly among those who had to pay for it. In this document an interesting question is what criticisms were being responded to. But even without the original, do we get a sense of what mattered to Churchill?

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