In Defence of Welfare – why the welfare state is good for us

Elke Heins
Elke Heins

Elke Heins is a Lecturer in Social Policy, University of Edinburgh.

After the success of In Defence of Welfare: The Impacts of the Spending Review published in 2011, the UK Social Policy Association (SPA) has produced a follow-up volume in the run-up to the General Election 2015 to make the case for why we need the welfare state. Around 50 UK social policy experts give their verdict on key developments in British social policy over the past five austerity-dominated years. In one of these short contributions to In Defence of Welfare 2 I argue together with Chris Deeming that welfare and well-being are inextricably linked.

Well-being is a concept that has gained significant momentum since the global economic crisis both internationally and within the UK as the measurement efforts by diverse actors, ranging from the OECD and EU to various government and non-government bodies, to replace the one-dimensional GDP with multi-dimensional well-being indicators demonstrate. Measuring individual and societal well-being matters from a social policy perspective because key well-being outcomes are influenced by social policy.

In the UK, the welfare state is often presented in a negative light (for example, when talking about a ‘dependency culture’ or the ‘nanny state’). In the context of the financial and economic crisis since 2007/08 an increasing emphasis has moreover been put on the costs of social policies. However, a well-funded and functioning welfare state, based on solidaristic principles, can play a critical role in securing societal well-being as a whole, from which everyone benefits. The welfare state not only impacts directly on individual well-being through the provision of personal services and family benefits, but also more indirectly through improving the health, wealth and social well-being of a whole nation. The welfare state through its comprehensive health, education, pensions, and care services plays a key role in securing economic growth.  For example, it provides the infrastructure to support and develop ‘human capital’ in the form of a healthy workforce equipped with the necessary skills demanded in the modern knowledge economy or enables people of working age to fully participate in the labour market through the provision of care services for children and older people. The preventative functions of many welfare services moreover mean that they will lead to cost savings and long-term benefits in the future.

We are currently living through an era in which many welfare services are being cut, yet from a wider well-being perspective it is time to make the case that everyone benefits from living in a society in which solidarity is shared across social groups through a redistributive and proactive welfare state. Social policy research continues to offer a broad justification for the principles of social welfare in a more substantive form, at least as a means for promoting well-being and happiness in the population. Government clearly does have a responsibility to help create the underlying conditions in which all citizens can strive to enhance the quality of their lives and the fabric of society around them.

In-defence-of-welfare-2-[FC]The contribution to In Defence of Welfare 2 was co-authored with Chris Deeming, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Bristol. The book, In Defence of Welfare 2, is available for purchase in paperback form from Policy Press for just £10.

If you enjoyed this blog entry, you may be interested in a similar article: Promoting healthy pathways to employability: lessons for the UK’s welfare-to-work agenda by Colin Lindsay & Matthew Dutton

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