What is Welfare State Origin Characteristics purpose and Crisis

Welfare State

Social welfare state is the model of government in which the State undertakes to guarantee the economic and social well-being of the population .

It is called a welfare state, as in it the government takes active measures to protect the health and general well-being of citizens, especially those in financial need.

Origin of the Welfare state

In the context of social policies, the State is historically classified in three different ways:

It is included in the second topic and is the result of several transformations that have occurred over time. Gradually, governments around the world took responsibility for ensuring the well-being of the population.

Among the main causes that led to the emergence  are:

The conquest of political rights by the working class

Through class struggle, the working class acquired political rights in the late 19th century, resulting in the socialization of politics. Thus, civil society gained access to decision-making and the elite lost its monopoly over the State.

With the representativeness of the working class, the State gradually assumed the duty to protect their rights.

The Socialist Revolution in Russia

The October Revolution (also called the Bolshevik Revolution) took place in Russia in 1917. It was a socialist revolution, in which the working class forced the resignation of monarch Nicholas II.

The movement ended tsarism in Russia and gave rise to the Soviet Union. The episode had consequences for the capitalist model around the world, which began to be rethought in order to avoid similar revolutions. This reinforced the importance of guaranteeing the rights of the working class.

monopoly capitalism

When capitalism left the competitive phase for the monopoly phase, the liberal State model started to be questioned. This is because the State began to invest in companies, increasing speed and production, which resulted in a high concentration of capital in the hands of a few.

This new reality made it difficult for small businesses to emerge and undermined classical liberal ideals, facilitating the transition to the welfare state.

The Crash of 1929

The 1929 crash (also known as the Great Depression) was a period of severe recession in the world economy. It was caused by the overproduction that followed World War I, due to the need to supply the continent.

As European countries recovered, exports, especially to the United States, declined, creating a huge disparity between production and consumption.

The 1929 crisis revealed the flaws of the liberal model and presented the need for active State intervention in the economy. In this way, it can be said that the welfare state gained more relevance from the 1930s onwards.

Characteristics of the Welfare State

It is not a fixed model of government, therefore, it presents itself in different ways around the world. 

Adopt measures of a socialist nature

Even in capitalist countries, welfare state welfare measures are socialist in nature, as they aim at equitable redistribution of income and equal opportunities for all.

Among the main measures of this type are pensions, grants, insurance and other welfare concessions.

Have protective legislation

As a way to protect the rights of vulnerable citizens, it has legislation aimed at protecting their rights. For example, the minimum wage, safety and health at work, vacations, restrictions on child labor, among others.

intervene in the economy

To guarantee the rights of citizens, the welfare state acts actively in the economy.

Nationalize companies

It tends to nationalize companies in strategic sectors so that the government has the necessary tools to promote public services.

Among the most targeted areas are housing, basic sanitation, transportation and leisure.

What is the purpose of the welfare state

The objective of the welfare state is to ensure equal opportunities and fair distribution of wealth to citizens.

In addition, the State is responsible for individuals who are unable to maintain a dignified life through the distribution of subsidies, grants, concessions and other measures.

In practice, the characteristics of the welfare state vary according to the government of each country. In the United States, however, the term welfare state has a pejorative connotation that differs from the rest of the world, meaning only “aid to the poor”.

It can be broadly or narrowly defined. The broad sense is little adopted by sociologists and consists of any government contribution to the well-being of citizens, such as:

  • Paving of streets and sidewalks;
  • Public transportation;
  • Sewerage;
  • Garbage collection;
  • Policing;
  • Schools, among others.

In a strict sense, as is commonly discussed, the welfare state is one that establishes measures such as:

  • Unemployment insurance;
  • pensions for the elderly;
  • Maternity leave;
  • Medical assistance and more.

Crisis of the welfare state

By assuming numerous responsibilities with citizens, the welfare state faces several difficulties and, therefore, has its effectiveness questioned around the world.

When government spending, plus charges related to the well-being of the population, exceed public revenues, the country enters a fiscal crisis . This scenario is what is called the crisis of the welfare state.

Among the main proofs of the crisis of the welfare state are the measures taken by Margareth Thatcher during the period in which she was prime minister in Great Britain (1979-1990).

Thatcher recognized that the State no longer had the financial conditions to maintain welfare measures and, at the same time, promote economic growth. Thus, the government of the region made the transition to neoliberalism.

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