- Welfare State
:"This article refers specifically to the Welfare state of the
United Kingdom. For the general concept, please see Welfare state."
The Welfare State of the
United Kingdomwas prefigured in the William BeveridgeReport in 1942, which identified five "Giant Evils" in society: squalor, ignorance, want, idleness and disease.
A series of changes were put in place by government to deal with these Evils after the Second World War. The changes meant that the government undertook measures in policy to provide for the people of the United Kingdom "from the cradle to the grave."
This policy resulted in massive expenditure and a great widening of what was considered to be the state's responsibility. In addition to the central services of Education, Health, Unemployment and sickness allowances and so on, the welfare state included the idea of increasing redistributive taxation, increasing regulation of industry food and housing (better safety regulations, "weights and measures" controls etc.)
The Welfare State was a commitment to health (in 1948 the
National Health Servicewas created), education, employment and social security.
However the initial foundation of the National Health Service did not involve building new hospitals but merely the nationalisation of existing municipal and charitable foundations. The aim was not to substantially increase provision but to standardise care across the country; indeed Beveridge believed that the overall cost of medical care would decrease, as people became more healthy and so needed less treatment. Instead the cost increased dramatically, leading to severe financial problems, and charges (for dentures, spectacles and prescriptions) were introduced in 1951 - by the same Labour government that had founded the NHS just three years earlier. Despite this, the principle of health care "free at the point of use" became a central part of the dogma of the welfare state, which later governments critical of the welfare state were unable to reverse. The classic Welfare State period lasted from approximately 1945 to the 1970s, when policies under
Thatcherismbegan to privatize public institutions, although many features of it remain today. This includes, but is not limited to, compulsory National Insurance contributions, and the provision of old age pensions.
Some primary reasons for the establishment of a welfare state include the reports drawn up by men such as Rowntree, son of the famous confectionary manufacturer, and Booth, into the levels of poverty in Britain in the early twentieth century. These reports indicated that in the massive industrial cities of the north, a high percentage of people were living below the level of substinance, or the poverty line.
The deeper reasons for the establishment of the welfare state are complex. Certainly governments who had seen the revolutionary wave of revolts after the
First World Warwere keen to ensure that deep reforms reduced the risk of mass social unrest after the Second World War. In addition, modern, complex industry had more need for a healthy and educated workforce than older industries had. Crucially, the experience of almost total state control during the Second World War had inured the population to the idea that the state might deal with wide areas of national life. Finally it seems likely that the social mixing involved in mass evacuation of children, and of service in the armed forces, had increased support for welfare among the middle classes. But the most important change was not in the people but the government; civil servants had become used to control of many aspects of civilian life during the war, and were reluctant to see a reduction in either their numbers or position. A centralised welfare state was an attractive way to ensure the dominance of the self-confident bureaucratic class.
Certainly, the Labour party, standing in 1945 on a programme of establishing a welfare state, won a very clear victory. However, since the 1980s the British government has begun to reduce some provisions in England: for example, free eye tests for all have now been stopped and prescription charges for drugs have constantly risen since they were first introduced in 1951. (Policy differs in different countries of the United Kingdom.) Providing a Welfare State is however still a basic principle of government policy in the United Kingdom today.
National Health Service
* [http://www.sochealth.co.uk/history/beveridge.htm Text of the Beveridge Report]
See, Welfare State, Right to Life, and Capital Punishment in India, by Parul Sharma, Sampark Publications,Calcutta/New Delhi,2005.
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