The Welfare State

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The Welfare State: Developments and Perspectives

1. Absolute Poverty and Relative Poverty.
Sociologists and Economists use different definitions to measure poverty. One such definition is absolute poverty, where people lack the necessary food, clothing or shelter to survive. This is more common in developing countries, but still occurs in the European Union. For example, the Homeless can experience this kind of poverty. The 1995 United Nations World Summit on Social Development in Copenhagen stated absolute poverty as,

"A condition characterised by severe deprivation of basic human needs." Those listed were, a lack of food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and access to benefits.” (Gordon 2005) Indicators of poverty

In many countries, absolute poverty is common and results from a lack of resources, or from unequal distribution of wealth. This often leads to poor nutrition, short life expectancy, and high levels of infant mortality. In general a person is considered poor if their income level falls below the minimum level necessary to meet basic needs. This is called the ‘poverty line’, which will vary, depending on each society but was ‘officially set at 60% of an average income (after housing costs) in 2007 in Britain’. (Browne 2008)

Poverty in more economically stable countries is generally called relative poverty. This is where people’s income falls below the general standard of living within their locality but high enough to cover their basic needs. These economic inequalities exclude people from taking part in activities, which are normally an accepted part of daily life, leading to social exclusion. The European Commission, Joint Report on Social Inclusion 2004 makes this point when they stated that, "People are said to be living in relative poverty if their income and resources are so inadequate as to preclude them from having a standard of living considered acceptable, in the society in which they live. They are often excluded and marginalised from participating in activities that are the norm for other people and their access to fundamental rights may be restricted." (Palmer, G. 2010)

Measures of relative poverty are related to the standard of living in a society at any one time so these will vary as the standard of living improves or declines. Some countries have a higher relative poverty than others. This is often a sign of poor distribution of wealth and economic inequality within that counties welfare system.

2. Welfare Developments in the UK, throughout the 20th Century. Looking back over 100 years of welfare provision in the United Kingdom it is clear that it has evolved greatly. There were many different Acts, political reforms and social change that played a part in the development of the Welfare State in Britain. Many of the reforms that took place in the early 20th century were desperately needed as the then current Poor Law and had great limitations, and were much hated. The Poor Law was administered through local parishes and stated that no able-bodied person was to receive ‘outdoor relief’, the only relief offered was the workhouse and conditions were made harsh to discourage people from seeking help. Other welfare provision was, provided voluntarily, by friendly societies. Hospitals were run and funded in the same way or by the church so any help outside the workhouse was state free. The Poor Law had a slow decline and this began when the Liberal Government was elected in 1906. They introduced reforms such as, the 1911 National Insurance Act and old age pensions, which provided medical and unemployment benefits to workers who contributed. But there were still major limitations, families of the insured were not covered, the long-term unemployed would lose their insurance rights and the increasing amount of war widows needed financial support. “This laissez-faire approach to economy was unsustainable when faced with the demands of...
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