100 Years on the Broo
The Welfare System
Life on Unemployment Benefit
David Cameron: "The benefits system has created a benefit culture.
It doesn't just allow people to behave irresponsibly, but often
actively encourages them to do so."
Tony Blair: "The welfare that works, is the welfare that helps people to
Margaret Thatcher: "What our people seem to have lost is belief in the
balance between production and welfare."
Love it or loathe it, life on the Broo has been part of our culture for
100 years. Just about everyone in Scotland has either lived it or knows
someone who has. But, how did we get here? And
what happened before life on the Broo?
Life at the beginning of the 20th century was brutish and short. A
boy born in 1900 could expect to live until he was just 45. A girl until
she was 49. The average worker earned £1.40 for a 60 hour week. But if
life was tough for those with a job, for those without it was dreadful.
Professor Paul Spicker: "You would have had to become a pauper,
you would have had to lose your civil rights, you would have had to go
into the workhouse. If you or any of your family had to go the
workhouse, the family would be pauperised, it would mean they would lose
Workhouses have been around since the 17th century. They prevented
total destitution, but only just.
Professor Richard Finlay: "In on room they would sew mail bags,
in the next, they would unpick them and then start over. It was
exceptionally demeaning and cruel. People dreadedgoing into the
By the beginning of the 20th century there was the growing acceptance
that unemployment was rarely the fault of the unemployed. Illness and
closures were far more common causes. At the same time, working class
votewas becoming increasingly important.
So, in 1911, the liberal chancellor Lloyd George introduced the
National Insurance Act. Life on the Broo was born.
Dr Sharon Wright: "Lloyd George's idea was to address the
problem of poverty, he wanted to deal with mass poverty that was too
proud to wear the badge of pauperism. So, he introduced insurance , a
scheme that workers would pay into, the state would pay into and employers
would pay into."
Initially, it was only available to workers in certain jobs. those
that, by their nature, were sporadic like shipbuilding. Even so, the
Liberals had introduced a safety net for the working classes and stolen
the lead on their Labour Party rivals.
Bob Holman: "It came into being but Keir Hardie and the Labour
movement were immediately critical of it because it only covered a
minority of workers and it only covered them for about 15 weeks."
The Liberals were so pleased with Lloyd George's reforms they
commissioned a film showing people free from the tyranny of the
workhouse. In reality, it remained as the place of last resort until the
The Ministry of Labour
But, any concerns about life on the broo would soon be overshadowed.
There had never been a war like it, killing on an industrial scale,
millions dead, no family was left untouched. On the homefront, women
entered the workplace en masse, frequently undertaking jobs previously
reserved for men, For those lucky enough to return from the war, there
was little else to cheer. The economy was struggling. With Russia having
fallen to the Bosheviks, goverments feared idle and hungry workers.
Benefits were extended tp cover most jobs. Life on the Broo was a useful
The first march for jobs set off to London from Glagow in 1922 and
protestors carried on marching from all over Britain for a decade. For
many though, life on the Broo was the only option. By 1932 a staggering
1 in every 5 of the working population was claiming unemployment
benefit. A record that has remained unbroken to this day.
In 1934 the Unemployment Assistance Act acknowledged the changing
times. Now, the long-term unemployed and those who'd never even had a
job would be entitle to a life on the Broo. But, it came at a price, it
involved stringent means testing. Increasingly, it was becoming clear
that Industry alone could never create the jobs needed and governments
would have to offer their workers more than just a life on the Broo.
Work had stopped on The Queen Mary in 1931. The liner stood rusting
on The Clyde for over 2 years, a symbol of Britain's economic woes. Now
the government put up money to finish the job.
In rural Scotland, the hydro scheme promised communities both jobs
and electricity and in 1937 work began on Scotland's first industrial
estate at Hillingdon.
In 1938, as the decade drew to a close, Scotland hosted the Empire
Exhibition in Glasgow's Bellahouston Park A spectacular celebration of
industrial endeavour. It was a tremendous success attracting more than
12 million visitors. Then just 9 months after it was all over the Second
World War broke out.
37 years after its inception, thanks to the Beveridge report, a
war-weary nation could now look forward to social security from cradle
to grave. Beveridge's scheme was not without flaws. It soon became
apparent there needed to be something for people who were unable to
contribute. So National Assistance was introduced and in the post-war
years as the economy began to boom other anomalies of a contribution
based system emerged. It was clear there was very little support for the
In 1971, as part of the concerns we have the introduction of
invalidity benefit which is an extension of the existing national
insurance sickness benefit for long term claimants.
The benefits system was proliferating at a time when the old
industries were faltering. They were increasingly dependant on subsidy
and crippled by industrial unrest . The 1970s became a decade synonymous
strikes, 3 day weeks and black-outs. That was all set to change when The
Conservatives swept to power in 1979. Because of population growth,
unemployment was higher, in sheer numbers, than it had been in the 1930s
By 1986 3 million people were unemployed, just over 10% of the working
Margaret Thatcher's refusal to continue subsidising old unprofitable
industries meant many went to the wall. For those bemoaning the lack of
work and opportunity, there was little sympathy. Whole communities that
had depended on mines, car plants and steel works suddenly found
themselves devastated by closures.
JobCentres struggled to cope. New ideas such as job clubs and youth
training schemed were launched in an attempt to try and get people off
benefits and back into work. The YTS was particularly unpopular, seen as
nothing more than cheap labour. For those who couldn't find work, life
on the Broo was tough.
In 1978 there were 800,000 men and women of working age on sickness
benefit, by 1992 that figure had risen to 2.2 million. These people were
living on benefit without registering as unemployed.
Labour came to power in 1997 pledging to overhaul the benefits
system. Job Centres became open-plan , in the parlance of the day; more
inclusive. There was Job Seekers Allowance, a new deal to help people
back into the workplace. Then in 2008; the credit crunch. Suddenly the
middle-aged, the middle-class and middle-management were loding their
As the credit crunch continued, ever increasing numbers were claiming
unemployment benefits. Perhaps, surprisingly that was also helping to
keep a shaky economy remain stable