Welfare State: An Introduction to Social Policy

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Modern welfare state development is generally considered to lead to social security or benefits payments, social housing provision, health provision, social work and educational services.

Together these services are known as the 'big five' but these services tend to develop over time and have differed in quantity, availability and quality. Provision and development can change due to social, economic and political factors (Spicker, 1995, p. 3). State provision of welfare has a long history, in Britain for instance dating back to the Elizabethan Poor Laws and earlier. Welfare states started to develop when surveys of poverty by people such as Charles Booth showed the inadequacy of welfare provisions that could not deal with poverty particularly with increasing urbanisation and industrialisation (Thane, 1996, p. 7). The worldwide depression from 1929 would lead countries to consider further welfare developments. High unemployment (12% of the working population in Britain at its worst) showed that better welfare provision was needed (Robbins, 1994, p. 208). From such modest roots the public sector in Britain for example represents around 40 % of the economy (Simpson, 2005, p. 4). There are various key theories that seek to explain the processes involved in welfare state development that will be explained below. The theories have evolved or being devised to explain the differences and similarities in welfare state development in different countries at the same time or in a single country over a period of time. Theories agree that welfare states were developed to serve those that needed help the most or sometimes as universal services to all (O'Brien and Penna, 1998, p. 2). After the main theories have been discussed the one or ones that are most applicable for evaluating contemporary changes will be outlined. There are different ways of looking at the development of the welfare state and deciding how far it should extend, demands for changes can result from improved technology, shifting social or economic factors and demographic trends such as lower birth rates and people living longer. As governments have discovered welfare states mean 'people are living longer and healthier lives' which means that there are more pensioners but less working people to sustain the pensions and extra health and care services they need (Department for Work and Pensions, 2005 p. 4). Four key theories of welfare state development are based around liberalism, Marxism, Neo-liberalism and post structuralism and have all at some point been reflected in or used in the development of welfare states. Developments in welfare states can also be reactive or proactive depending on the ideological aims and visions of governments or their ability to make social policy (Spicker, 1995, p. 35). Liberalism tended to stress the role of the individual in providing for their own needs; the state should only intervene to help those that were incapable of finding work. The capitalist market would eventually provide better lives for everyone; there was only a minimum role for state intervention (O'Brien and Penna, 1998, p. 21). In Britain the liberals originally achieved their aims for welfare state development with the 1834 Poor Law Act that finally replaced the long lasting but no longer effective act of 1601. Following the new act the poor were put in workhouses where they had to work in return for being housed and fed (O'Brien and Penna, 1998, p. 21). Liberalism stressed in its original form that all the state needs to do is give individuals the freedom to make their own choices, only helping the really destitute. For them government only needs to uphold laws and property rights. The business of government of business was to allow businesses to operate freely (R. Bellamy 'Liberalism' from Eatwell and Wright, 2003, pp. 27-28). However some liberals recognised the shortcomings of laissez-faire economics particularly during...
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