The Solidarities of Strangers: The English Poor Laws and the People, 1700-1948

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The Solidarities of Strangers is a study of English policies toward the poor from the seventeenth century to the present that combines individual stories with official actions. Lynn Lees shows how clients as well as officials negotiated welfare settlements. Cultural definitions of entitlement, rather than available resources, determined amounts and beneficiaries. Indeed, industrialization and growing wealth went along with restricted payments to the needy, while universal allowances and insurance systems expanded as the economy faltered and world wars crippled budgets and drained resources. Although the English poor laws were a 'residualist' system, aiding the destitute when neither family nor charities covered needs, they went through cycles of generosity and meanness that affected men and women unequally. The long-term history of welfare in England and Wales has not been a story of continued progress and improvement but one determined by continually changing attitudes toward poverty.