Colonialism and Welfare
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Colonialism and Welfare

Social Policy and the British Imperial Legacy

Edited by James Midgley and David Piachaud

The British Empire covered three centuries, five continents and one-quarter of the world’s population. Its legacy continues, shaping the societies and welfare policies of much of the modern world. In this book, for the first time, this legacy is explored and analysed.
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Chapter 11: The British Social Policy Legacy in Australia

Paul Smyth


Paul Smyth The case for a positive British social policy legacy in Australia is best made in terms of the influence of the British welfare state in the years following the Second World War. Half a century earlier, Australia – like its sister Dominion, New Zealand – had seen itself as a ‘social laboratory’ leading the world precisely because of its progressive ‘state experiments’ in social legislation which were at odds with the then ruling policy orthodoxies in Britain (Roe, 1976). By the 1950s and 1960s, however, the laggard British had positioned themselves as world leaders in social policy, with that widespread international influence noted by Titmuss (1968). For Australians, the British welfare state guarantee of citizenship-based social rights appealed as a way to redress the inherent inadequacies of its older wage-earner-based model of social protection. However, the Australian transformation into a welfare state was stalled by the world economic crises of the 1970s, and the British welfare state model was subsequently exposed as lacking integration with economic policy and neglectful of citizens’ social obligations. Today, with neoliberalism itself in crisis, this British legacy still offers a key starting point for a renewal of a rights-based approach to social policy in Australia. Of course, this account of a positive social policy legacy of empire must be read in the context of the overwhelmingly negative impact on the indigenous peoples as a result of their dispossession by the British beginning in 1788, and the thoroughly racist character of social policy which continued throughout...

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