The concept of ‘welfare’ refers to different meanings based on its applicability. In literal meaning, the term means people’s well-being made up of the components they choose to have in their lives. However, when associated with the state, welfare means a series of social services offered to people in their childhood, sickness, and old age to protect them in different conditions. In the United States of America, welfare means financial aid provided to poor people but in the European Union, this means providing social protection. The notion of a welfare state also varies from country to country. In some places, it is considered as an ideal model and some countries use to mean nothing more than the welfare provided by states. The Scandinavian and Western European countries point towards a system of social protection by this rather than a mere arrangement functioned by the government.
A welfare state is a system where organized power is used to modify the play of market forces in three directions: by guaranteeing a minimum income irrespective of the market value of work or property, by narrowing the extent of insecurities, and by ensuring that all citizens will be offered the best standards in social services irrespective of their class or status (Briggs, 1961). The contemporary world witnessed three common welfare state regimes. These are:- liberal welfare states, conservative welfare states and, social democratic welfare states.
In this modern society of ours, the welfare state system is an increasingly popular institution. The idea of social protection came to focus in Western Europe around the 1900s but the modern welfare state as a term was developed from the 1950s to the 1970s. The welfare state system is closely related to industrialism and the market economy. Starting from the late 1980s, most of the welfare states have undergone significant changes in restructuring, and transformations. Social protection started including a wide range of social services and risks related to them. Most of all, it started providing protection to the population of every age range. Following the transition of the market economy, welfare states have started emerging in former communist and industrial countries. For example, China has been developing a welfare state system since the 1990s.
Although most of the explanations behind the development of welfare states are linked to industrialization, a market economy, and modernization, there are some other explanations as well. The welfare states are known to reduce insecurities arising from the capitalist and industrialist societies. This system combats inequalities and fulfills the needs of every citizen which is important for the maintenance of social cohesion. Another explanation advocates for the fact that welfare states products of:- interest conflicts, class struggle and, class alliance.
The social policies that are put in force by the welfare states have some specific principles related to social needs and equity. The resources of a welfare state must be distributed equally. Every group in the state should be given equal opportunities irrespective of their gender or ethnicity. The basic needs such as food and housing can not be limited. There must equal freedom and rights in the welfare state including civil rights, social rights and, political rights. The main objective of social policies is to ensure harmony and peace in societies. For this, social policies work closely with social development, social justice, social integration, social balance, and, social peace.
The idea of a welfare state may be noble but it is not free from several criticisms arriving from its own limitations. The social policies have not been completely successful in reducing poverty and unemployment rates. Social expenditures have started to increase followed by the tax on income and capital. Sometimes the opportunities pose an adverse impact on the family structure of the societies. The development of welfare states is rather slow because of the increased economic and financial pressures but it is possible to overcome these limitations by formulating new policies and strategies.
Briggs, A. (1961). The Welfare State in Historical Perspective, European Journal of Sociology,vol. 2 (2), pp. 221-258.