This study is designed to fill the gap between histories of welfare policies, which normally take the story only as far as the emergence of the welfare state in the 1940s, and discussions of social policy, which are typically concerned only with current issues and very recent changes. It thus aims to place contemporary policies in their full historical perspective from the 1830s to the 1980s. The text demonstrates the recurrence of dilemmas posed by such issues as eligibility for relief, selectivity versus universality, or the role of means testing. Similarly, it suggests that there is a long term continuity in the social inequality sustained by certain other forms of benefit, such as occupational pensions, and the incidence of tax reliefs on insurance premiums or mortgage interest. The extent to which apparently modern initiatives have been shaped by earlier policies is emphasized in the book's analysis of the changing boundary between provision of public welfare and private alternatives in the form of charity, informal care or voluntary services.