Time for a new poor law? Elizabethan ideas win economics prize

Family take share of £100,000 award with study of UK’s golden eras of growth including pioneering welfare system


Britain could look back more than 400 years to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I for inspiration on how to reboot the economy and tackle inequality, according to a joint winner of one of the most valuable prizes in economics.


Simon Szreter, a professor of history and public policy at Cambridge University, his wife, Hilary Cooper, an economics consultant, and their son Ben Szreter, the chief executive of a community-based charity in Cambridge, were collectively one of two winners of the inaugural IPPR economics prize, worth a total of £100,000.


Their entry focused on previous golden eras in UK economic growth that could help revitalise modern Britain.


The Elizabethan poor law of 1601 forced the creation of one of the world’s first universal welfare systems and spurred one of the strongest periods of economic growth in UK history.


It forced every parish in England to create a fund to support orphans, widows, elderly, disabled, ill and unemployed people, using progressive tax levies that meant the rich contributed most.


The Szreter family argued that an economy thrived most when citizens were supported by a strong social security system.


The IPPR prize ranks as the third most valuable in economics, behind the 9m Swedish krona (£760,000) Nobel award and the £250,000 Wolfson prize, which was launched in 2011 by the Tory peer and Next chief executive, Simon Wolfson.


The other winner was a group of seven workers all aged 27 and under at London Economics, a consultancy, who proposed to devolve greater power to the regions of Britain, including moving 15,000 civil service jobs outside of the capital.


The IPPR received more than 200 entries, which were judged by a panel including John Mills, the founder of JML, who was a funder of the award.