Understanding Social Insurance: Risk and Value Pluralism in the Early British Welfare State

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This article seeks to make two contributions to the understanding of social insurance, a central policy tool of the modern welfare state. Focusing on Britain, it locates an important strand of theoretical support for early social insurance programs in antecedent developments in mathematical probability and statistics. While by no means the only source of support for social insurance, it argues that these philosophical developments were among the preconditions for the emergence of welfare policies. In addition, understanding the influence of these developments on British public discourse and policy sheds light on the normative principles that have undergirded the welfare state since its inception. Specifically, it suggests that the best model, or normative reconstruction, of social insurance in this context is a value-pluralist one, which pursues efficiency and equality or solidarity, grounded in group-based perceptions of risk.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalPolitical Research Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021


  • efficiency
  • market failures
  • pensions
  • social insurance
  • unemployment insurance
  • welfare state


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