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What Is a Welfare State?

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  • Originally Written By: Sherry Holetzky
  • Revised By: A. Joseph
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 27 March 2014
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In the strictest sense, a welfare state is a government that completely provides for the welfare, or the well-being, of its citizens. Such a government provides for its citizens' physical, material and social needs rather than the people providing for their own needs. The purpose of the welfare state is to create greater economic equality or to ensure at least a certain minimum standard of living for all citizens.

Types of Benefits Provided

A welfare state provides education, housing, sustenance and healthcare for its citizens. It also provides benefits such as pensions and unemployment insurance, and it provides equal wages through price and wage controls. This type of government provides public transportation, childcare, social amenities such as public parks and libraries as well as many other goods and services. Some of these things are paid for through government insurance programs, and others are paid for by taxes.

Systems Used

Most advanced nations are not true welfare states, although many provide at least some social services or programs. In some countries, these goods and services generally are available only to people who meet certain eligibility requirements. Those who meet the requirements, however, are entitled to these benefits. This type of system is frequently referred to as a "safety net" that is designed to help people who are in need. Most often, these systems will provide basic needs such as food and housing.

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A welfare state is socialist in nature. It redistributes wealth by more heavily taxing the middle and upper classes to provide goods and services for the needy. Even countries that don't practice socialism, however, typically will offer at least some form of safety net. These programs might be available to individuals on a temporary or permanent basis, depending on their needs and circumstances.

Difficulties Experienced

One problem that has been associated with welfare states is the difficulty in creating an efficient system. Some countries are unable to provide equitably for all of their citizens. The rationing of goods and services also becomes a problem when too many people depend on the welfare state to provide for their basic needs. Another problem is that many people who are capable of providing for themselves have no motivation to improve their lives because they can rely on the government to provide for them. This often breeds resentment by people who do work and are taxed more heavily to pay for the support of people who do not work.

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Discuss this Article

anon355399
Post 25

How about people learn to take personal responsibility and actually work commensurately to the lifestyle they wish to achieve. I know -- shocking, right?

anon346592
Post 24

A country the size of the United States has the resources to make sure most, if not all, of its citizens will at least live to see another day. Those who believe the majority of public assistance recipients are living better than they deserve are deluded. From personal experience, an average person who applies for food stamps, subsidized housing and welfare benefits lives hand to mouth and day by day. Yes, the welfare system as a whole has been gamed numerous times, but for the people who play it straight, life on public welfare is barely life at all.

The original intent of programs such as Social Security and public assistance and food stamps was to provide a safety net for the least fortunate citizens. Somewhere along the way, and I still can't figure out exactly when, that security net became a hammock for some people. The same thing happened in other welfare states as well, like Great Britain and Germany and France. If there's a public dole system in place, someone will always find a way to get more than their fair share, or else learn to live on those meager payments until they die. That's just basic human nature at work, not necessarily a failing of the government programs.

One of the most important priorities of a First World country is to make sure most of its citizens don't die from preventable things, like poverty or disease outbreaks or lack of housing. The government doesn't want sick people dying 100 yards from a hospital just because they can't afford the treatments. It doesn't want hungry people dying 100 yards from a grocery store because they can't afford to buy food. It also doesn't want homeless people dying 100 yards from affordable housings. There were good reasons why all of these federal assistance programs were started, even if the unfortunate side effects include fraud and abuse by the recipients, not the administrators.

anon319406
Post 22

Welfare is not good for me because the poor can rely on the government for their basic needs.

anon316796
Post 21

Those of you who think that socialism is a good thing should move to Russia or China. After all, they are already doing things similarly, and you get the added benefit of having the government tell you what to do, when to do it and where. Can you refuse to do what the royalty (government) says? Nope. Well, I guess you could if you like a dirty, cold, insufficient jail cell. There is nothing good about distributing the wealth of others. It eliminates motivation, it causes class warfare, it causes separatism and although everyone gets about the same things, the quality would be extremely poor.

After all, if you were a socialist government handing out "sustenance", would you be handing out filet mignon and champagne? Of course not. You'd hand out flour, rice, maybe some poor cuts of meat, some sugar and maybe surplus dairy. Is that the way you want to live? It sure the hell isn't what I want.

Oh, and one more thing. Many of you talked about general intelligence. While you're perusing the web, notice the people who cannot compose a sentence with any kind of proper grammar, spelling or intelligence. Is it the self-sustained, intelligent and motivated or is it the needy and/or "wanty" who seem less intelligent and who wish to be taken care of? So much so that they didn't bother paying attention in the third grade when we learned our numbers and letters (yes, I'm aware most of us got that in the first grade, I'm just saying.)

Let's stop the socialization of this great, noble nation of ours. Let's get back to a society who took care of themselves without government assistance. Let's get back to helping the needy because we want to out of the goodness of our hearts, not because we are forced to by the liberal royalty.

Let's make it a bad thing to disgrace your family with an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, or to aspire to be a street thug, or to beg for a handout when you're perfectly able-bodied to work for yourself. Let's bring a level of shame back to society, and a general level of "acceptable" behavior (societal, not governmental). And yes, lets do help those who cannot help themselves because it is a moral and Godly thing to do so. Any objections? Good luck.

Reda Coston
Post 19

Life is temporary so don't waste your time thinking you're less than that. Some people are so lucky. Look around you.

Research the world and its problems, then relate that to your own. You'd be better off to get your life back on track. Focus on something that you can achieve and change. Don't just be here and be nothing. Don't just think of depressive conversations or sitting on the couch.

There are so many things eating at a successful person who is showing signs of mental dependency. What kind of welfare are you looking for? Health is established and maintained on a daily basis. When you are dead, what kind of welfare is that? You were born to be nothing but a welfare hopeless homeless individual. You decided what life you want, good or bad.

It's completely up to you, not me.

anon100861
Post 17

Much of your arguments are morally based without any empirical evidences backing it up. Care to provide any studies which do more than offer moral arguments?

anon90610
Post 16

welfare is good because it helps those who can't work and also help you to find work while you receive it. on the other hand, rich people they don't like everyone to be rich like them. Poor people want to remain poor. Welfare is good for poor people and this is what rich people want.

anon82848
Post 15

I will admit I lean a little to the left but this concept is extreme. On the other hand it does take a village. When does it go from help to hindrance? Tax the rich to feed the poor, yes, but the poor are comfortable and the middle class is going broke. Social worth shouldn't have a price tag; it should have value.

anon78278
Post 14

anon21589: But what about a wage earners' welfare state? Where the requirement for receiving such provisions as housing, health care etc. is that you work, or have worked for long enough to be permitted to retire?

anon52794
Post 12

priestley was highly influenced in developing the welfare state. what does this mean and when was this introduced

anon42759
Post 9

To anon: you say you don't need others. who planted the food you ate? who invented the bed that you sleep on? who suffered to make you alive?

anon32437
Post 7

To anon: The Toughest Survive.

anon21589
Post 5

Dear people of knowledge

"Today my father said that social welfare is good because it takes care of the weakest.."

I know that he is lost and that i should probably report him to the police because both you and me know that the next thing that will happen if something crazy like that should become reality is that he, as well as hundreds of thousands (millions?) others will quit their jobs (even if my father loves his job) and spend the rest of their lives lying on the couch because as you say, who the hell wants to work if you can be able to do nothing and still get free meals and a roof over your head.

And then the remaining people who are still working will wonder why there are so few others. And even the fact that they have an average IQ of 50 (since they dont know that they TOO can lie on the couch and be provided for), they will eventually find out where the others have gone and the result will be a class warfare.

Please come and take him away as he most surely is going insane. Afterwards i can take care of myself, because who needs others? Not me because to rely on others is socialism, and socialism is bad.

anon21585
Post 4

Comment: "a welfare state is a ideal way to administer society and any other way might create crime, civil war and global destruction as well as it is impossible to avoid a poorer sex life amongst the people of a non-welfare state "(no quote needed i guess?)

anon21583
Post 3

Also Class warfare? Impossible to achieve an eqitable state? What!!! "May appear good on paper ... impossible to achieve... "

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