The concept of the welfare state is comparatively of recent origin. It came into prominence mainly after the Second World War. Its ideals and policies, popular in recent times are followed by a number of countries in the world.
In the nineteenth century the state had become a democratic ‘Welfare State’ in many parts of the world. The general masses of people suffered seriously on account of increasing poverty, inequality, economic uncertainty, unemployment etc.
During this century, consequently their condition was deplorable, the immense suffering experienced by people in general brought about a very great change in the idea of state functions. They realised at this stage that the Laissez Faire principles in relations to state functions would not be effective any longer.
Henceforth, the state could not act as a police force maintaining law and order only. These police functions cannot serve the purposes of modern industrial society. At this stage the welfare state came into being to solve the problems of people and relieve their suffering.
The main reason for the rise of the welfare state was to recover from the devastation caused by the Second World War. It was thought that the state, instead of being a police state should be an agency for promoting the welfare of people as a whose and for their mental, physical and moral development.
At present, many countries of the world including India, are following the policies of the welfare state. The welfare activity undertaken by welfare states varies from country to country not only in detail but also in emphasis, what does the concept of welfare state means then ?
There are differences of opinion on the concept of a welfare state among writers who have interpreted it differently. Their interpretations are stated below.
G.D.H. Cole says that “The welfare state is a society in which an assured minimum standard of living and opportunity becomes the possession of every citizen.”
Arthur Schlesinger remarks that, “The welfare state is a system wherein government agrees to under write certain levels of employment, income, education, medical aid, social security and’ housing for all its citizen.”
Herbert H. Lehman holds the view that “The welfare state is simply a state in which people are free to develop their individual capacities to receive just awards for their talents and to engage in the pursuit of happiness, unburdened by fear of actual hunger, actual homelessness or oppression reason of race, creed or colour.”
Prof. Benhan is of the view that “A state where a comprehensive system of social insurance has been adopted, is called a welfare state. The object of social insurance is to provide economic security to the citizens, social insurance eliminates risk arising from accidents, unemployment, poverty in old age etc. and there by increases the welfare of the people.”
There is yet another writer who defines welfare state as a state which takes upon itself to provide social services for the nation, to bring under public ownership important industries or enterprises placing certain control on private enterprise and to organise democratic planning on a national scale.
Functions of welfare state
A welfare state in addition to the general functions of state discussed else where, performs the following functions.”
The welfare state stands for the welfare of its citizens with welfare as its primary objective, the welfare state makes provisions for free medical service, public health and hygiene and preventive measures against epidemics.
Secondly it takes care of old, invalid and sick people providing them financial assistance in the form of allowance, pension, relief etc. The unemployed receive unemployment from the state.
In the third place it is the duty of the welfare state to provide opportunities for education to all its citizens and to make education free and compulsory up to a certain standard. Furthermore the state should establish and maintain a large number of institutions for general and technical education.
These responsibilities are not exhaustive, they are indicative of the function which the state performs for the general well-being of people. However, the welfare state has wider implications than the ones we have discussed.
The development activities which a welfare state must undertake include the development of agriculture and industry, irrigation facilities, co-operative farming, the management of basic industry, Railways, Road Transport, Post and Telegraph, supply of electricity, gas water, the Civil Aviation, insurance and other public utility services.
The stress on nationalization of industries and enterprises is a recent development especially in India. The Railways, Civil Aviation, Insurance and fourteen major banks have already been nationalised in India.
Under the auspicious of the state a number of industries such as fertilizer, Iron and steel plant etc are established or expanded in India. While creating or expanding industries labour welfare service to those citizen who are engaged in these industries.
One of the function of the welfare state is to regulate the payment of wages, compensation, duration, of work and conditions for the benefit of those who work in different industries and public concerns.
Another important responsibilities, of the welfare state to create conditions congenial for an increase, in production and equitable distribution of wealth among people. This move is intended to reduce inequality and enhance the general standard of living among them.
For economic security the state takes upon itself the responsibility for providing food, clothing and shelter to its citizen. The state achieves its primary objective and welfare of people, by adopting economic planning and other measures intended to provide the maximum happiness to the largest number of people.
It is said that in a welfare state, “the individual has only to get himself born the state will do the rest. The welfare state places equal emphasis on individual and society. The best example of a welfare state is Great Britain.
There are some general objections negative as well as positive to the concept of the welfare state. The negative objections are made with regard to Germany, Belgium, Japan and the United States of America which do not believe in the concept of welfare state.
But these nations have surpassed the welfare states like India and England in so far as welfare activity is concerned. It is argued that the welfare state England would not have accomplished that it has actually achieved in the field of welfare activity without generous economic assistance from the USA.
The positive objections leveled against the welfare state is that the state help kills self help. The state help is a deterrent to initiative, drive and intelligence which individuals cannot develop as the state takes upon itself the responsibility for their welfare.
A number of modern nations are proud of being described as welfare states. India is not an exception to it. The wave of pride stemming from welfare activity is sweeping over the welfare states.
But to declare India a welfare state in the true sense of- the term full concentration on developing great need for efforts to improve cottage and small industries, the system of educations particularly in the rural areas.