The concept of welfare state
We all know that most of the modern democratic countries are 'welfare states'. The establishment of welfare states in democratic countries was a remarkable development of the 20th century. In a welfare state, the role and functions of government are extensive and diversified. In modern times, the responsibilities and functions of governments have increased beyond limits. The concept of state in the early periods was mainly of a 'police state'. i.e., the governments had to perform the sovereign functions along with the establishment of public safety and security and these formed the primary duties of every government. But democracy changed the role and functions of the government. Today, the concept of 'welfare states' have redefined the very meaning of democracy.
What is a welfare state?
A welfare state is a state or a government meant for the welfare, or the wellbeing of the people. In other words, it is a government which primarily aims at the 'welfare' of the people. A welfare state takes the responsibility of the welfare and the economic and social wellbeing of its citizens. Welfare implies the benefits or different modes of aid provided to the people. It can be in terms of money or services. Cash payments, subsidies, concessions, grants and public distribution come under the term welfare. All these welfare measures amount to the redistribution of governmental revenue to the needy.
Extent of welfare measures
The sick, the poor, the disabled, the unemployed and similar groups of people are to be taken care of in a welfare state. It has the duty of eliminating economic inequalities to ensure a reasonable and equitable standard of living, to all citizens of the state.
Education, health care, social insurance, housing, old age pensions and medical care have become the responsibility of welfare states. They even bother to provide unemployment compensation payments to the unemployed.
Characteristics of welfare state
1.A welfare state ensures social security. In a welfare state of economy, though the traits of capitalism are also seen, it is mainly a mixed economy. Even when a combination of capitalistic and socialistic features exists, the government plays a dominant role in controlling the economic activities and in the social welfare of the people.
2.A welfare state is socialistic in nature. It is based on the principles of equality and is keen to provide equal opportunity to all. It also aims to ensure equitable distribution of wealth.
3.It exercises control over all the economic activities. In a welfare state, all the private enterprises are regulated by the government.
4.It provides even the basic facilities to its citizens. Furnishing services to each and every individual is its duty. A welfare government is keen in providing economic and social services such as general education, public health, public transport, housing, and other financial assistance to its people.
5.It undertakes and runs various enterprises. Ownership and operation of industrial enterprises, business and other commercial activities are also done by welfare governments.
6.It ensures justice to all. In a welfare state, common man has to deal with the authorities for many of their needs. For example; administrative officers, controlling officers, sanctioning authorities, officers of social services, executives of public sector undertakings etc. In all such dealings, a welfare state has the responsibility to ensure justice and fulfillment of their requirements.
7.Planning of activities: Economic activities include production and distribution. It is the duty of the welfare state to formulate national policies and to plan every economic activity in a balanced manner. Industrial policy, trade policy, commercial and banking policy etc are framed in order to control those activities.
8.It is the function of a welfare state to regulate and control all private enterprises engaged in economic activities. Such control includes registration, licensing, taxation etc.
9.Welfare of labourers also comes under the purview of the duties of welfare state. They are bound to make legislations to prevent exploitation of workers, and to ensure the security and welfare of those who work in industrial enterprises, factories, companies and all other sectors of employment.
Is the concept of welfare states implemented effectively?
To a great extent, the concept of welfare states is effectively implemented by our democracies and this has helped governments in improving the scope for betterment of the citizens. But as in any other political policy, the concept of 'welfare states' too has loopholes and is contaminated by improper management and corruption. From the grass roots levels to the highest levels of the political system, the common man is compelled to bribe the officers in order to get his work done. From the critics' point of view, the functions of welfare states have made the citizens more lethargic and less hard working. Even then, in the present context, welfare states are effective in our democracies and it functions as a protector, dispenser of social services, industrial manager, economic controller and an arbitrator.