What Is the Function of the Welfare State?

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  • Topic: William Beveridge, Social security, Welfare state
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WHAT IS THE FUNCTION OF THE WELFARE STATE?

The question set is so broad that I shall have to be selective. I shall conduct my answer in relation to the British Welfare State. Before we can successfully understand the function of the Welfare State we must first be clear of its definition. Although I recognise that Britain has a long history of providing forms of welfare to its citizens though relief like the poor-law between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries, I intend to look at the post-war history of the Welfare State. I shall then move on to looking at the main provisions that the British Welfare State makes and how it works in a constantly changing society. I shall focus on the intimate relationship between the Welfare State and the family dipping into the function of the Welfare State in education and healthcare.

The majority of people would agree that Britain is a ‘Welfare State'. However, if people were asked what they consider a welfare state to be then the answers would be vague and varied, and it would be difficult to arrive at a widely accepted definition (Marsh, 1964). The concept of a Welfare State is a complex matter. The term was probably first used by Arch Bishop William Temple in his pamphlet ‘Citizen and Churchman', published in 1941. However, it came into general use in the years after 1945, which marked the end of the Second World War (Sleeman, 1973). ‘As early as 1939, Sir Anthony Eden had argued in Parliament that war "exposed weakness ruthlessly and brutally… which called for revolutionary changes in the economic and social life of the country"' (Marsh, 1964). So what exactly were these changes? During the war years proposals were made for new kinds of social policies in the peaceful years to come. The Beveridge Report of 1942 aimed to counter the ‘five giants of illness, ignorance, disease, squalor, and want'(Sleeman, 1979). It considered the whole question of social insurance, arguing for a system of social security organised for the individual by the state. William Beveridge recommended the establishment of a National Health Service, national insurance and assistance, family allowances, and stressed the importance of full-employment. The term ‘Welfare State' became a description of what society was to be like in the future. The Labour Party was the new government in 1945. Clement Attlee, the new Prime Minister greatly extended his government's responsibility for the provision of the social services. Attlee announced he would introduce the Welfare State outlined in the 1942 Beveridge Report. Thus, he further developed National Insurance, National Assistance and Family Allowances, with the setting up of the National Health Service and the extension of public education provision. Welfare services increased for those in need, typically children, families and the elderly. In 2004, Clement Attlee was voted the most effective British Prime Minister in the 20th Century in a poll of political academics organised by MORI. (Wikipedia Encyclopedia)

It was generally felt that we had a new kid of State, a Welfare State. No longer was the State merely a policeman who kept law and order, or the arbiter who settled disputes and upheld the sanctuary of contracts. No longer was its concern only to relieve the most acute cases of need and inequality. Its business was now positively to promote the welfare of all its citizens. (Sleeman, 1973)

The Welfare State exists to provide a better standard of living for all. This includes provisions for retirement and old age, sickness and accident compensation, unemployment compensation, health insurance and education. However, different social thinkers and political leaders have had very diverse views about the nature and purpose of the Welfare State and what role in society should it take. Sleeman distinguishes three lines of thought that have been influential. The first line of thought is that ‘the State should provide a floor both of income and of...
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