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An Introductory Reading

This reading is designed for students to begin to understand the relationship between ideology and politics/society. In the case of these examples, we look specifically at the different ideologies that underpin attitudes towards the welfare state.

Here are some questions to accompany the text...

Market Liberalism

1. How does the author define liberalism?

2. What is meant by economic freedom? How does the market provide economic freedom? 

3. Why is the author against state intervention, to improve people's standards of living? Do you think he is right? 

4. What kind of values underpin this reading? What implications does this model of economics/politics have for you, as a youth/community worker?


1. What role does the author think the working class played in the development of the welfare state?

2. Why did the working-class people accept welfare services based on means-testing?

3. What does the author mean when he says the welfare state is a 'bribe'? Do you agree with him?


1. What does the author mean by 'female dependency'?

2. In what ways does the social security system treat men and women differently?

3. How does the author explain these differences? Do you think she is right?

4. When discussing 'the right to work', is this a conditional right for certain groups in society?

UK Political Ideology: Perspectives on Welfare

Market Liberalism

[...] Is the role of competitive capitalism - the organisation of the bulk of economic activity through private enterprise operating in a free market - as a system of economic freedom and political freedom...It is extremely convenient to have a label for the political and economic viewpoint elaborated (in this book). The rightful and proper label is liberalism...As it developed in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, the intellectual movement that went under the name of liberalism emphasized freedom as the ultimate goal and the individual as the ultimate entity of society. It supported laissez faire as a means of reducing the role of the state in economic affairs and thereby enlarging the role of the individual...The characteristic feature of action through political channels (by governments) is that it tends to require or enforce substantial conformity. The great advantage of the market, on the other hand, is that it permits wide diversity. It is, in political terms, a system of proportional representation. Each man can vote, as it were, for the colour of tie he wants and get it; he does not have to see what colour the majority want and then, if he is in the minority, submit. It is this feature of the market that we refer to when we say that the market provides economic freedom. But this characteristic also has implications that go far beyond the narrowly economic...The heart of the liberal philosophy is a belief in the dignity of the individual in his freedom to make the most of his capacities and opportunities subject only to the proviso that he does not interfere with the freedom of other individuals to do the same. Government action can never duplicate the variety and diversity of individual action. At any moment in time, by imposing uniform standards in housing, or nutrition, or clothing, government could undoubtedly improve the level of living of many individuals...But in the process, government would replace progress by stagnation, it would substitute uniform mediocrity for variety.

From: Friedman, M. (1962) Capitalism and Freedom - pages 4-5,15,194 & 195


Perspectives which suggest that the welfare state is an oasis of socialism mistakenly imply that the working class has been the prime mover in not only prompting welfare reform, but in shaping and administering it. It is true that the support of the organised working class has been crucial to almost all progressive reforms, but one cannot argue that the welfare state is the product of a consistent mass campaign by the working-class movement. [...] While the working class has exerted little 'real' control over welfare policy and administration, it is equally true that the welfare state is a response to the presence of the working class, and the continuing plight of either some or all of its members' inadequate or insecure living conditions. This presence comes to the attention of governments and the bourgeoisie in any number of ways, apart from the Labour movement pressure and pressure from other groups. Important examples in Britain might include the cholera epidemics of the mid-nineteenth century, the West End riots of the 1880s, the strikes and revolutionary agitation before and after the First Word War, the hunger marches and rent strikes of the inter-war period, unofficial strikes in the 1960s, delinquency, squatting, family breakdown and so on. While none of these phenomena have represented an organised threat to the state, they forcibly bring home to the bourgeoisie the existence of a class or fragments of it which either rejects or is rejected by bourgeois values and whose needs must to some extent be accommodated or repressed to ensure the survival of capitalism...In the end, of course, the working class has had to accept capitalist welfare as an immediate improvement of its conditions of existence, though it has resisted the terms on which it has been offered, and opposed means-testing, work relief and fair rents, etc. But this acceptance has been predicated on the hope that the working class would be able to impose its own values on the welfare state through Parliamentary channels...One may argue that state welfare represents a quid pro quo or a 'bribe' offered to the working class in exchange for political and industrial peace. This was certainly Bismarck's view of the social insurance schemes, Lenin's view of Lloyd George's welfare legislation and a common interpretation of the reforms initiated by the Beveridge report. It captures the political importance of capitalist state welfare, which is correctly considered by working-class consumers as a 'piece of the cake' sacrificed by capital to secure their wider cooperation. The Welfare State indeed exerts an important cushioning effect on working-class experience, actively diverting attention from the structure of class inequality. 

From: Ginsberg, N. (1979) Class, Capital and Social Policy, pages 7,10-12


The origins of the social security system and the circumstances of the majority of its beneficiaries provide little justification for the automatic definition of man as paid worker, woman as full time housewife...For example, Rowntree (1922) in his first study of poverty in York at the end of the nineteenth century decided to classify families according to family income rather than by the wages of the male earner because the wages of wives and children 'frequently amount to more than the earnings of the head' (1922:56). However, the first national insurance scheme started by Lloyd George in 1911 copies the Friendly societies whose membership was drawn mainly from the more skilled and regularly employed sections of the Labour force. Their normal practice was based on the concept of the male breadwinner, paying benefits to the sick or injured man but excluding benefits for his wife and family. Thirty years late, Beveridge revised and extended the national insurance scheme to all income groups in his report which forms the basis of much of the post-war social security legislation. The expanded scheme was still firmly based on the assumption that marriage permanently removed women from the labour market. Housewives were treated as a special class, a dependent class, and were given the choice of not paying full contributions, relying instead on their husbands, each of whom contributed (Beveridge Report, 1942, p.50) 'on behalf of himself and his wife, as for a team.' Ignoring the not inconsiderable evidence that neither women themselves, nor the economic policy-makers, regarded women's war-time employment as a temporary measure, Beveridge states (1942:50) 'the attitude of the housewife to gain employment outside of the home is not and should not be the same as that of a single woman. She has other duties.' The Social Security Pensions Act 1975...removes some of the inequalities which married women have experienced in the social insurance system for over half a century. However, the concept of female dependency has not been weakened...It is clear then that the social security system like the tax system only supports men and women in specific roles. Even role sharing, not to mention role reversal, often results in heavier taxation or reduces entitlement to social security benefits. Throughout both systems the assumption is that women become dependent on men once they marry or cohabit: breadwinners are male and only women have responsibilities for domestic work. Reading the social security legislation it would be difficult to deduce that in 1971, one in six households (excluding pensioner households) relied on a woman's income for support and that the majority of these households contained dependants. It would also be hard to realise that the 'typical' family consisting of man in full time employment, woman full time housewife, and two dependent children, is at any point in time a minority of families (about 10% in 1971)...Why then, do the state's income maintenance schemes still only support men in the role of chief breadwinner and woman as man's dependent housewife? The answer must lie in the fact that there are enormous advantages to the economically powerful groups in society in sustaining the belief that men are breadwinners and women, at most, are supplementary earners, whose primary duties lie in the home. In this way work incentives for men are preserved even among low-wage earners whose wives also have to work to support the family. At the same time it justifies paying women lower wages than men. Women when they enter the labour market do so in the belief that they do not need as high a wage as a man. Moreover, their paid employment must take second place to their unpaid work in the home. They, therefore, form a very cheap, docile and flexible section of the labour force and the majority confine themselves to the less secure and less rewarding jobs. At the same time they continue to care for husbands, children, the elderly and the infirm at a minimum cost to the state. However, it should not be forgotten, of course, that when we talk of economic advantage, we have, as Eleanor Rathbone pointed out forty years ago 'an economic structure devised by and for men'. 

From: Land, H. (1978) 'Sex role stereotyping in the social security and income tax systems' in Chetwynd, J. & Hartnett, O. (Eds.) The Sex Role System, pages 137-8, 140 and 142

Social Democratic View

Consider, first, the nature of the broad principles which helped to shape substantial sections of British welfare legislation in the past, and particularly the principle of universalism embodied in such post-war enactments as the National Health Service Act, the Education Act of 1944, the National Insurance Act and the Family Allowances Act. One fundamental historical reason for the adoption of this [universal] principle was the aim of making services available and accessible to the whole population in such ways as would not involve users in any humiliating loss of status, dignity or self-respect. There should be no sense of inferiority, pauperism, sham or stigma in the use of a publicly provided service: no attribution that one was being or becoming a 'public burden'. Hence the emphasis on the social rights of all citizens to use or not to use as responsible people the services made available by the community in respect of certain needs which the private market and the family were unable or unwilling to provide universally. If these services were not provided for everybody by everybody they would either not be available at all, or only for those who could afford them, and for others on such terms as would involve the infliction of a sense of inferiority and stigma. Avoidance of stigma was not, of course, the only reason for the development of the twin-concepts of social rights and universalism. Many other forces, social, political and psychological during a century and more of turmoil, revolution, war and change, contributed to the clarification and acceptance of these notions...The emphasis today on 'welfare' and the 'benefits of welfare' often tends to obscure the fundamental fact that for many consumers the services used are not essentially benefits or increments to welfare at all; they represent partial compensations for disservices, for social costs and social insecurities which are the product of a rapidly changing industrial-urban society. They are part of the price we pay to some people for bearing part of the socts of other people's progress; the obsolescence of skills, redundancies, premature retirements, accidents, many categories of disease and handicap, urban blight and slum clearance, smoke pollution and a hundred-and-one other socially generated disservices. They are the socially caused diswelfares; the losses involved in aggregate welfare gains. We have, as societies, to make choices; either to provide social services, to to allow the social costs of the system to lie where they fall. The nineteenth century chose the latter - the liassez faire solution. What we suggest is that the ways in which society organises and structures its social institutions - and particularly its health and welfare institutions  - can encourage or discourage the altruistic in man; such systems can foster intgration or alienation; they can allow...generosity towards strangers to spread among and between social groups and generations. This, we further suggest, is an aspect of freedom in the twentieth century which, compared with the emphasis on consumer choice in material acquisitiveness, is insufficiently recognised. It is indeed little understood how modern society, technical, professional, large scale organised society, allows few opportunities for ordinary folk to articulate giving in morally practical terms outside their own network of family and personal relationships.

From: Titmuss, R. (1968) Commitment to Welfare, pages 129 & 133 AND Titmuss, R. (1970) The gift relationship, pages 225-6


The origins of the social security system and the circumstances of the