Discuss why, despite the seemingly benevolent role of the Welfare State in relation to families, its effects have been treated with suspicion by some family theorists. May 2003 Submitted by: – 0163330/1 Submitted to: – Chris Bell and Carl Jones Word Count: – 2500 words In this essay I am going to discuss why, despite the seemingly benevolent role of the Welfare State in relation to families, its effects have been treated with suspicion by some family theorists. I will look at how the Welfare State developed and why, then look at the way it has affected the family and study it from various theorists’ points of view.
Finally I will conclude by arguing whether or not the Welfare State plays a benevolent role in family life. The Welfare State is a ‘society in which the state, in the form of the government, accepts the responsibility of ensuring a minimum standard of living for all people as a right of citizenship’. (Lawson, 2000, P312) The Welfare State in Britain has its origins in the Poor Law, which provided relief for the poor, sick and elderly in the seventeenth century.
During the nineteenth century, the state became more involved with the welfare of society through the provision of public health.
The Liberal Government of 1906 to 1914 introduced free school meals, old age pensions for those aged 70, national insurance and limited unemployment benefits. However the present Welfare State and its principles have their origin in the Labour Government of 1945 to 1951. The Beveridge Report of 1942 is significant in the development of the Welfare State.
In this report, William Beveridge identified five areas, which he argued were the duty of the state to eradicate. The five areas, which he identified, were idleness, ignorance, squalor, want and disease.
The Welfare State was based on three key principle- full employment, universal welfare and free health and education. Beveridge set up the Welfare State under the principle of universalism: all those who need help should receive it. However, Beveridge assumed that the need would decline because the Welfare State would eliminate need and want in society. Unfortunately he was misguided in this idea but could not have predicted many of the subsequent changes in society. Between 1945 and 1979 the Conservative and Labour governments Welfare State was key in supporting disadvantaged families.
They expressed the need for state intervention in family life in order to achieve equality for all families. This is known as ‘Welfarism’. The aim was to use the Welfare State to provide families with equality. This was to be achieved by the state intervening in people’s lives to give a more equal standard of living. Welfarism ‘is based on the view that impoverishment and disadvantage is not a matter of individual failure but a socially constructed condition characteristic of a stratified society and which needs social intervention to ameliorate it’.
After 1979, in the Thatcherite era it was much the opposite, New Right thinkers wanted less state intervention. They argued that the individual is responsible for their own successes or failures. ‘ The use of the Welfare State to promote welfarism now began to be seen as costly, unnecessary and morally repugnant political instrument which financially cripples the successful in order to feather-bed the lives of the disadvantaged members of society’. (Bilton, 1997, P497) When the Labour Party came into power in 1997 a new perspective was introduced called New Individualism.
They claim to support the idea of welfarism; but actually argue against the Welfare State and they believe that individuals and families should take responsibility for their own lives and hence reduce their reliance on the Welfare State. Tony Blair’s Labour Party introduced the ‘welfare to work’ programme which contains elements of the market model of welfare. It requires people receiving benefits to accept a subsidised job, do voluntary work or take up full time education or training.
Labour has focused on work as a way of lifting families out of poverty, rather than raise benefits from the Welfare State. The Welfare State can be viewed as taking a benevolent role in family life but this is not always the case. Some critics argue that the relations between family and the state are an agent of social control. Sociologist Gosta Esping-Andersen refers to Britain’s Welfare State system as a Liberal system. He argues that the state plays a limited role in family life; and the state only intervenes in family issues when there is a problem, which the family can not solve.
The Liberal Welfare State system tends to target a limited number of people who need help The Welfare State has affected families in many ways including mothering, the breakdown of the family and caring for the sick and elderly. A woman is expected to mother and care for her own child. The Welfare State only intervenes in this task after a disaster has struck. Benjamin Spook and Penelope Leach argue that Welfarism fails to support the mother, for fear of interfering with her rights. Women who are caring for children receive no income maintenance, although those caring for an adult dependent are entitled to a care allowance.
Nevertheless, this is not normally enough to cover the loss of wages. Also a high number of married women who have children are being forced to work. Women who do work are often receiving a lesser wage than a man. Married women are allocated the specific role in the Welfare State system as being both wife and mother. The state looks after the breadwinner, the man, and the breadwinner looks after his wife and children. This assumption has been used to justify the higher wage of the men and is also reflected in the Welfare State legislation.
Pateman (1989) argued that ‘men were treated by the British Welfare State as full citizens, but women as wives and mothers’. It could therefore be argued that the Welfare State fails to meet the needs of nuclear families. (Fulcher, 1999, P741) The Welfare State does provide families with children, Child Benefit. All parents receive this payment regardless of their income. This causes a matter of controversy because some families are more in need of the payment than others. There are advantages and disadvantages attached to universal child benefits.
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