Short essay on the concept of a Welfare state



The State is commonly accepted as a structure built within society; it ensures a determinate order for the attainment of specific objectives. But while the State sets the tone for a social order, it is not the same thing as a society. After all, the will of the State is only the will of the government, which is constituted by the political party in power.

In all democratic societies, the people are recognised as sovereign and the ultimate arbiter. The sovereignty of the people is undeniably a dogma of democracy; theoretically, it is basis of all political decisions, but in practice it amounts to a vague or general indication of the direction in which the sovereign people wish events to be molded.

The purpose of the State is two-fold: promotion of individual welfare and realisation of the collective aims of society.

In short, the State must create conditions for the best and freest possible development and creative self expression of its members.

All the functions the State undertakes, together with all the actions it decides upon, must enable the citizens to realise the best that is in themselves. It is expected, ultimately, to enrich their happiness, promote spiritual uplift and ensure general welfare.

The conception of the State as an instrument of power has now been discarded in both capitalist and communist societies.

Police functions, especially maintenance of law and order, are of course indispensable, but with the passage of time, there is increasing stress on promotion of social welfare.

In fact, this is now the essence of every polity. A just, equitable political set-up must indeed ensure happiness for all, by regulating the dealing of citizens, by checking all types of high-handedness and injustice— social, economic and political. The weak have to be protected against the strong, and equal opportunity has to be provided to all citizens to grow and develop their personality as they like.

The concept of welfare includes, among other things, an order in which no one is denied the basic necessities of health and decent living. Accidents of birth and misfortune are, of course, beyond human control, but the misery and unhappiness which these factors cause can be minimised as far as possible. This is what a Welfare State is expected to do, besides positive actions designed to promote the people's well-being and happiness.

The concept of social welfare is a comprehensive one. It covers physical welfare, that is, physical fitness and vitality. That is why public health schemes are undertaken. Secondly, it implies spread of knowledge. The people's education is rightly regarded as essential for social welfare—that is, for preservation of conditions of freedom, political and social, and also for creative self-expression. The minds of the young have to be appropri­ately molded.

Public education has admittedly a vital role to play; it paves the way to intellectual expansion and overall progress.

Ironically, the problems of poverty, exploitation of vulnerable sec­tions of society and unemployment have become more acute with the progress of civilisation. The hardships implicit in under-employment, permanent or temporary disability resulting from accidents and sickness, and the injustice of the wage system, have all to be removed, as far as possible, in a Welfare State.

A truly Welfare State was envisaged by the Beverage Plan (in Britain, which provided 'cradle to grave' security) and former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. President Roosevelt conveyed the basic idea clearly when he said the State must strive to establish a social order which should ensure freedom from want and freedom from fear—as a matter of constant policy, not merely in response to a crisis situation at intervals. These are among the main functions of a Welfare State.

It is apparent that a gov­ernment which claims to be popular and fully responsive to the needs of the people cannot afford to ignore them.

Among the schemes which a Welfare State in modern times generally launches are those for all types of social security, especially for the elders— old age pension, unemployment and sickness insurance, maternity and ac­cident benefits to workers.

In USA, there are schemes of public assistance for needy and old persons who could not benefit under the insurance scheme, and for children who have been deprived of support or care because of the parents' death, disability or absence.

How do the States today fulfill their essential tasks? In order to win the support of the masses, even the most despotic governments assert that their policies are directed towards the people's general welfare. In fact, every independent polity makes some claim to being called a Welfare State.

The lead in establishing a real Welfare State was taken by New Zealand. There, government benevolence extends from the caddie to the grave. The parent of each child up to the age of 16 or 18 (if he remains in school) receives a subsidy. School children are given free milk, apples and medical aid; food is subsidised, housing loans are given at low rates, jobs are assured for everyone. Large amounts are allocated for hospitals, play-grounds and many other things of constructive use.

Ironically, in many parts of the world the main beneficiaries of welfare programs are those who are not in need of assistance at all. Besides, centralisied welfare programs tend to promote concentration of power in the hands of ruling party.

USA is described as the most prosperous country in the world, with the largest number of millionaires. But a mass of people there also lack the basic amenities. They are maimed in body and spirit; they exit at low levels, without adequate housing, education and medical care. They remain pessimistic and defeated. So, even the Welfare State has many paradoxes. Oddly enough, the middle class ignores the poor, though its members were themselves quite poor not very long ago. The founders of the Indian Republic envisaged a truly Welfare State.

The Constitution postulates this goal. The Preamble clearly defines the basis and the main characteristics of the "Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic”. It commits the Republic to secure to all its citizens— justice, social, economic and political; liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; equality of status and opportunity.

These are some features of a Welfare State. The other essential characteristics are specifically listed in Part-III of the Constitution, entitled "Fundamental Rights". These rights include equality of opportunity in public employment and equality before law. This chapter also bans discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. The other rights include the right to freedom, the right against exploitation, cultural and educational rights, the rights to constitutional remedies, etc. Without these in full force there cannot be a Welfare State.

No less important, though not legally obtainable, are the Directive Principle of State Policy. These lay down, in the clearest manner possible, that “the State shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting, as effectively as it may, a social order in which justice— social, economic and political—shall inform all the institutions of national life”.

Directives seek to provide the citizen the right to work, public assistance in certain cases, just and humane conditions of work and mater­nity relief living wage for workers, free and compulsory education for children, higher standards of nutrition and promotion of educational and economic interests of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and other weak section of society.

Social welfare is no longer a matter of charity. In the early years of India’s enlightened polity, welfare programs were directed to provide a few basic curative and rehabilitation services. But with the passage of years a notable reorientation has taken place. The scope of the services has been extended to cover large sections of the people.

In order to provide an integrated thrust to achieve the aim of ensuring a better life to the masses, a Union Ministry of Welfare has been constituted by pooling subjects relating to the Welfare of the disabled, programs of social defense, welfare of Scheduled Castes, tribes, other backward sections and the minorities. The responsibility of implementing the welfare schemes is shared by the Centre and the State governments.

There can be no genuine Welfare State as long as large chunks of society live in utter poverty and sub-human conditions. In India today, 40 to 45 per cent people live in poverty. If one goes by official statistics, poverty is rapidly getting eliminated and will vanish almost completely in next 15- 20 years. But the reality is otherwise.

True, extensive anti-poverty schemes are sanctioned by the Central government every year, but much of this expenditure benefits people who do not really deserve the amenities at public expense.

Eradication of poverty, which is the most important objective of planned development, has been accorded the highest priority in the government's economic strategy, envisaging a redistribution of resources and a higher economic growth. But implementation of the various anti- poverty programs in both rural and urban areas has been very slow and also lopsided. Consequently, the problem of poverty continues to be staggering proportions.

All talk of a truly Welfare State, as envisaged by the Founders of the Indian Republic, sounds hollow in such a dismal context.