Welfare State and Welfare Regimes
This lecture, we’ll discuss the concept of welfare state. In Hong Kong, the term carries
negative meanings. It usually refers to the business persuasion regarding the generous welfare
(in cash or services) provided by the government, which according to them, reduces people’s
intention to work and induce dependence. This lecture hopes to clarify the meaning of the
term and help you understand why it is considered so important by European countries (and
by the social work profession) and how it comes into existence, as well as the challenges it
The idea of the ‘welfare state’ is an ambiguous one. In some writing, it means little more than
‘welfare which is provided by the state’; in others, it stands for a developed ideal in which
welfare is provided comprehensively by the state to the best possible standards. The term is
used then, both as a form of description and as a normative argument (Spicker, 1995).
An ideal model. The "welfare state" usually refers to an ideal model of provision,
where the state accepts responsibility for the provision of comprehensive and
universal welfare for its citizens.
State welfare. Some commentators use it to mean "welfare provided by the state".
This is the main use in the USA.
Social protection. In many "welfare states", social protection is not delivered by the
state at all, but by a combination of independent, voluntary and government services.
These countries are still usually thought of as "welfare states".
Origin of the term
In UK, the term, in its English form, appears to have come into common use in the late 1930s
and 1940s. Ironically, the Beveridge Report, sometimes referred to as the blueprint for the
welfare state, did not use the term. Titmuss called the Beveridge report an insurance
revolution… Welfare revolution occurred during the liberal government in 1905-1914,
A system in which the government undertakes the chief responsibility for providing for the
social and economic security of its population, usually through unemployment insurance, old
age pensions, and other social-security measures; A social system characterized by such
policies (Collins English Dictionary, 2000).
Asa Briggs (1961)A “welfare state” is a state in which organized power is
deliberately used (through politics and administration) in an effort to
modify the play of market forces in at least three directions – first, by
guaranteeing individuals and families a minimum income irrespective of
the market value of their property; second by narrowing the extent of
insecurity by enabling individuals and families to meet certain “social
contingencies” (for example, sickness, old age, and unemployment) which lead otherwise to
individual and family crisis; and third by ensuring that all citizens without distinction of status
or class are offered the best standards available in relation to a certain agreed range of
services (Briggs, 1961, p.228).
In a narrow sense, the welfare state may refer to state measures for the
provision of key welfare services (often confined to health, housing, income
maintenance and personal social services). Increasingly broadly, the welfare
state I also taken to define (1) a particular form of state, (2) a distinctive form of polity or (3)
a specific type of society as defining a society in which the state intervenes within the
processes of economic reproduction and distribution to reallocate life chances between
individual and/or classes (Pierson, 1998).
The early systematic provision of welfare by the state occurred in Germany but the
motivation was by then, to buy off the militancy of the labour movement at a time when the
antagonism of labor against capital was very strong in many parts of Europe. Bismarck
argued that if the state would only “show a little more Christian solicitude (care and concern)
for the working-man”, then the social democrats would “sound their siren song in vain”.
“The thronging to them will cease as soon as working-men see that the government and
legislative bodies are earnestly concerned for their welfare” (Briggs, 1961, p.249, 250)
Gradually, more politicians and scholars saw welfare provision under capitalism transformed
its nature, making it a viable combination of efficiency (in economic production), liberty
(individual pursuit) and equality. So, instead of controlling the state through revolution, it is
also possible to control the state through election to provide welfare to the working people.
Yet, another important concept about welfare is that it is a social right of the people.
Just as eighteenth-century civil rights (freedom of meeting, for example, or of the press) were
employed to ensure political rights (the rights to vote and its corollaries), so political rights
were to be employed to secure social rights (Briggs, 1961, p.239).
In USA, the “welfare state” was introduced in the inter-war era under the New Deal initiatives
of Franklin Roosevelt Administration. Contributory social security system was introduced to
provide retirement protection for employees.
“Homes, health, education and social security, these are your birthright”,
exclaimed Aneurin Bevan1(Briggs, 1961, p.227), 1949 after the labor
victory. John Locke some 300 years ago summarized man’s inalienable
rights as life, liberty and property.
The Second World War, which sharpened the sense of “democracy”, led to
demands both for “tidying up” and for “comprehensiveness”. It encouraged
the move from “minima” to “optima”, at least in relation to certain specified services, and it
made all residual paternalisms seem utterly inadequate and increasingly archaic (Briggs, 1961,
p.257). Attlee (British Prime Minister after the WWII) announced he would
introduce the Welfare State outlined in the 1942 Beveridge Report. This
included the establishment of a National Health Service in 1948 with free
medical treatment for all. A national system of benefits was also introduced
to provide 'social security' so that the population would be protected from
the 'cradle to the grave'. The new system was partly built on the National
Insurance scheme set up by Lloyd George in 1911. People in work still had
to make contributions each week, as did employers, but the benefits
provided were now much greater. (BBC)
1 Usually know as Nye Bevan (1897-1960) was a Welsh Labor politician and a socialist. He was the
Secretary of State responsible for the formation of the National Health Service (NHS).