Welfare State: Meaning, History and Estimate of Welfare State

Meaning of Welfare State:

Welfare State is one which works actively to promote the socio- economic welfare of the people by formulating and implementing developmental policies, plans and programmes.

It is a state which seeks to promote all round development and welfare of the society and at the same time protects the rights and freedoms of the people.

It must be clearly understand that a totalitarian/dictatorship state attempting to secure rapid socio-economic development and in the process paying little attention to the rights and freedoms of the people is not a welfare state.

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“A Welfare State can be defined as a state that provides for its citizens a wide range of social services.” -Kent

“A Welfare State sets a pattern for a human and progressive society.” -Hobman

We can say that:


(i) A Welfare State is essentially a democratic state working to secure socio­economic welfare and development of its people with full respect for their rights and freedoms.

(ii) In this era of privatisation, liberalisation and market economy, the state continues to be a welfare state as it continues to perform its supreme responsibility to check economic inequalities, social imbalances, industrial mono-policies, unfair trading practices and exploitation of the weaker sections of society. It continues to be a state committed to secure social, economic and political justice, welfare and rights & freedom of the people.

Modern Welfare State remains committed to provide social security to the people, improve and develop health-care services, ensure employment for its people and to continuously work for creating conditions essential for raising the standard of living of its people. It encourages the people to form their associations and organisations for protecting their interests and needs.

Welfare State performs a large number of welfare functions for its people. Along with protection functions (police functions), it also performs socio-economic development functions as well as protects and respects the rights of the people.

History of Welfare State:


In the 20th century, the State came to be regarded as a Welfare State. The individualistic conception of the state as a police state or as a laisses faire state with very limited functions got rejected. It was now held that state was a natural, essential and welfare institution.

Rejection of Individualistic view of State and adoption of the concept of Welfare State:

In the 19th the State was viewed as a necessary evil. It was necessary for providing protection to individual life and property from internal and external violations. It was evil because its actions, which involved the use of force, always acted as limitations upon the rights and freedom of the people.

Further, it was held that freedom of trade and economics interactions among the people was an ideal and necessary requirement for economic growth and prosperity. The State was held to be a means to an end. The end was individual happiness, rights and freedom. The function of the State was to provide protection to the people by keeping its role limited to only police functions. It was held: “that government was best which governed the least.”

Such a view of the nature and purpose of state was found to be narrow and harmful in the age of science and technology. Industrialisation had given birth to a large class of workers, who in the age of laisses faire were being exploited by the rich factory owners. The need to provide them good conditions of work, adequate wages, health benefits, disability” benefits, old age benefits, and others as well as the need to prevent their exploitation gave rise to the need for positive State action.

In the late 19th century philosophers like. J.S. Mill advocated the view that in the interest of the greatest happiness of the greatest number. State action was needed for providing relief to the workers:

He advocated the need for the enactment of suitable laws for this purpose. Another philosopher, T.H. Green also advocated a similar view though on different grounds. He wanted the State to remove all hindrances (like poverty illiteracy, ill-health) in the way of enjoyment of liberty by the people. He strongly upheld the cause of tenants who were facing exploitation at the hands of the landlords. Green advocated state action for promoting welfare of the people. He came to be recognized as the First theorist of the welfare state.

The ideas of Marx, Engels and other Socialists, the Fabians, the Collectivists, Democratic Socialists and some others, also influenced the process of acceptance of the state as a Welfare State:

Towards the end of the 19th century, and particularly in first quarter of the 20th century, a large number of political thinkers, reformers, statesmen and political leaders, came out in support of the welfare state. They rejected individualistic view of the State as a police state/laisses faire state in favour of the welfare state.

State as Welfare State in the 20th Century:

The concept of the welfare state caught the imagination of the leaders and people of several states. Some western states came forward to formulate and implement several welfare schemes and programmes for its people. The need for rapid socio-economic reconstruction and development which came to be strongly felt after the two world wars of 20th century gave strength to the emerging concept of welfare state.

Further the process of the acceptance of the welfare state got a big boost with the emergence of several new independent states like India, Sri Lanka and others who found it essential to pursue the objective of fighting the evils of poverty, illiteracy, ill-health, underdevelopment, unemployment and others, through well planned and executed state policies and plans.. The people of such states regarded the state as the chief instrument for the promotion of their welfare.

In this environment the world witnessed an overthrow of the idea of police state and the acceptance the concept of Welfare State.

Estimate of Welfare State:

A. Points of criticism against the Welfare State:

1. State has become unduly powerful:

A modern welfare has concentrated a large amount of power is its own hands. It has resulted into a big centralisation of powers in the hands of the government. This has been against the true spirit of democracy and liberalism which stands for decentralisation.

2. The more the Laws, the lesser the Freedom:

For performing its socio­economic functions, a welfare state enacts a large number of laws which act as limitations on the rights and freedoms of the people.

3. Increased role of Civil Servants:

Big increase in the functions of state has in reality increased the powers of bureaucracy and police. This development has been a source of several difficulties for the people.

4. States is unlit for Owning and Running Industries:

The history of the working of a modern welfare state has shown the inability of the state to perform its economic, particularly the production and distribution functions. The failure of Indian public sector to deliver the desired results is a well known-fact.

5. People have become dependent:

The welfare state has made the people more dependent on state welfarism. It has checked self-efforts of the people for securing their needs and interests.

The critics, particularly the supporters of Individualism, advocate the view that there should be some limitations on the functions of state.

B. Justification of Welfare State:

The rejection of the concept of a police state in favour of a welfare state came as a necessity resulting from the emergence and progress of the industrial society. The need to make the state work for promoting the socio-economic welfare of all the people gave rise to the need to accept the state as a welfare state. Consequently, the state came to be no longer regarded as a necessary evil.

It got acceptance as a welfare state, a natural and necessary institution working for providing both protection to the people as well as for securing socio-economic-politico-cultural welfare and development of all the people. To provide relief to the people in the face of natural disasters is also an essential function of a modern state.

Welfare State is essential for:

1. Promoting Social Economic and Political Justice

2. For securing all round socio-economic development

3. For acting as a supreme agency for social change and development.

4. For y promoting all round welfare of all the people.

A Welfare State must perform its all protection and welfare functions. It has developed naturally and it continues to be a necessity of our living.

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