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Lecture | research seminar

Caribbeans and the National Assistance Act, 1948-1962

Friday 16 December 2022
Matthias de Vrieshof
Matthias de Vrieshof 3
2311 BZ Leiden

Existing welfare state scholarship tends to assume that, for the better part of the twentieth century, the boundaries of the welfare state coincided neatly with the boundaries of the nation-state. Additionally, it stresses the relatively homogeneous nature of this population during the post-war period. This is often used to justify concern about the impact of immigration on contemporary welfare states. In this chapter, I draw from the archival record to explore the extent to which the thousands of British citizens who arrived from the Caribbean had access to tax-funded, means-tested welfare from 1948 to 1962. I find that ‘Windrush’ migrants were entitled to social assistance under the National Assistance Act. However, there is evidence that at least some received less than that to which they were entitled due to discrimination by street-level bureaucrats. In addition, mainstream media and opportunistic politicians, who purported to act on behalf of constituents, exaggerated the recourse to welfare. Others, like the Act’s implementing agency, defended Windrush migrants, arguing that their welfare use was proportional to the share of the population. My findings in this chapter suggest that redistributive and national boundaries coincided de jure, but not necessarily de facto, in post-war Britain. In addition, contestation over these boundaries was rife. This contradicts the idea that immigration inevitably weakens welfare states by showing how an ensemble of interpretations and beliefs, at all levels of a social formation, can accompany the inclusion of migrants in welfare states.


Please register at least 4 days in advance at l-peg@hum.leidenuniv.nl to receive a copy of the paper and the log in details.

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