Charity was a part of western civilisation long before it was nationalised. Charity has been a virtue recognised and fostered by religion throughout human history. Christian charity has been an integral part of European civilization. In medieval Europe the Church bore the responsibility for organising and promoting poor relief and it was not until the 16th century that the state began to take over this responsibility. See Roger Lockyer, Tudor and Stuart Britain, 1471-1714, London (1964) p 138. In England the first statutory measures to alleviate poverty were enacted in the late Tudor period. Relief, however, was directed not at the population at large but at the poor and disabled and the method employed was to place responsibility on the parishes which were helped by a poor rate. However, even in that period, there was a resurgence of private charity and a resentment of state paternalism.
To many merchants, particularly those who had risen from little or nothing, paternalism was anathema ... Paternalism produced the poor laws, but this generalised form of relief was no more acceptable to the merchants than indiscriminate monastic almsgiving had been. They set an example by contributing more than half of the vast sums of money provided for private charities which were, in the long run, probably more effective than state aid for the poor. (Lockyer, op cit, 152)
The philosophy of these enlightened merchants was that the people should be helped to help themselves. In accordance with this philosophy, they poured money into the comprehensive remodelling of the English education system which, together with the entrepreneurship they propagated, made Britain the most prosperous nation on earth. The Christian ethic as interpreted by the puritan middle class called for dedication to work, honesty, thrift and charity. It was fundamentally opposed to the corruption and paternalism associated with the institutionalised church and state. Until the 20th century, welfare continued to be characterised by its focus on the genuinely poor or disadvantaged, the localised system of distribution and the emphasis on private duty to help one's fellow man.
The movement to centralised and generalised welfare drew its main inspiration from Benthamite philosophy. However, the two world wars acted as catalysts to this process by making governments feel that, in the situation of war, society needed to be organised and provided for by central management. The socialists who came to power after the second world war found these arrangements totally conducive to their philosophy and proceeded to entrench the system permanently.
The nationalisation of benevolence was carried through during the second World War, even before the socialist victory of 1945, but it was the post-war Labor government that completed the transformation of benevolence from a concern for some people into a concern for all people's needs. The objects of that concern were no longer a particular group, the needy, but the totality of needs - needs of education, health, "welfare", and "security", the last two being open ended concepts that could receive almost any content. (Neil McInnes, "The Politics of Needs - or, Who Needs Politics?" Human Needs and Politics (ed Ross Fitzgerald) Sydney (1977) p 242).
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