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Durham University

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Publication details for Professor Peter Atkins

Atkins, P. (2007). School Milk in Britain, 1900-1934. Journal of Policy History 19(4): 395-427.

Author(s) from Durham


It seems to be generally accepted that school meals played a small but important role in the creation of conceptual and practical space for the first green shoots of the modern welfare state, and that their provision, no matter how modest at the outset, therefore represented a major departure in the history of social policy. As Bentley Gilbert notes: “The passage of the Education (Provision of Meals) Act of 1906, and the Education (Administrative Provisions) Act of 1907, establishing medical inspection in State schools, marked the beginning of the construction of the welfare state. For the historian, feeding was the more important measure, not because it was wider in scope or more beneficial, but simply because it occurred first.” Thus the Liberal party's reforming administration of 1906–14 began with legislation on free school meals and school medical inspection. According to Pat Thane, this “was the first extension from the field of schooling into that of welfare of the principle that a publicly financed benefit could be granted to those in need, free both of charge and of the disabilities associated with the Poor Law,” and Charles Webster suggests that “the foundations were laid for the principle of providing publicly funded welfare benefits for an entire class of recipient without the imposition of the kind of limitations traditionally imposed under the Poor Law.” In more general terms, Ulla Gustafsson has asserted that school meals “inform our understanding of the relationship between the state, the family and children.”