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welfare state

  Those parts of the state apparatus involved in the provision of public services and benefits: it is generally assumed that the welfare state involves redistribution of income and wealth in favour of the poorer income groups within society, though empirical analyses have suggested that the more affluent frequently benefit most from at least some public services (such as education and health care).

Growth of the welfare state was especially rapid in the countries of the First World after the depression of the 1930s. Many elements of the British welfare state were introduced by the Labour government elected in 1945, for example, based on the case made in William Beveridge\'s 1942 paper, Social insurance and allied services, commissioned by the wartime government. Beveridge identified five \'scourges\' of contemporary society — want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness — and proposed a programme of social insurance to tackle three of them, later introduced through a comprehensive social security system and the National Health Service. (Ignorance was countered by the compulsory education service and squalor by housing and town planning policies.)

The size and extent of the welfare state came under considerable attack in most countries as part of the \'New Right\' formulation of policies to counter the recession of the 1970s and 1980s, and this case has since been accepted by the \'centre left\' too. The size and expansion of the welfare state was presented as the dominant cause of the fiscal crisis of the state, with the volume of its tax demands and public borrowing acting as major influences on inflation and interest rates as well as forming constraints to enterprise and initiative. Welfare states were substantially dismantled in some countries, not least New Zealand which had one of the most extensive, and the provision of public services is increasingly being either privatized or subject to market conditions, with the state\'s role reduced to guaranteeing a threshold provision only (cf. merit good). (RJJ)

Suggested Reading Johnston, R.J. 1992: The rise and decline of the corporate-welfare state: a comparative analysis in global context. In P.J. Taylor, ed., Political geography of the twentieth century: a global analysis. London: Belhaven Press, 115-70. Kelsey, J. 1995: Economic fundamentalism. London: Pluto Press. Pinch, S. 1997: Worlds of welfare: understanding the changing geographies of social welfare provision. London: Routledge. Timmins, N. 1995: The five giants: a biography of the welfare state. London: Harper-Collins. Westergaard, J. and Resler, H. 1975: Class in a capitalist society: a study of contemporary Britain. London: Heinemann.



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