Category: Social Topics
Historically, social welfare was synonymous with the human condition of well-being characterized by socioeconomic security against major life risks, contentment in meeting one’s basic needs, and the ability to manage problems and achieve goals. But thanks to revisionists, the term has been reduced to the services provided to the poor by public welfare departments and charity organizations. When members of society have a fundamental, tangible model of social welfare they experience a reasonable standard of health, extended life expectancy, quality housing, higher incomes, and minimal social problems. A society with poor social welfare is marked by poverty, low living standards, and high rates of violence.
The historical context of social welfare also includes self-preservation as a matter of personal diligence. Inasmuch as society accepted social responsibility for the needy, well-being was also thought of as a matter of individual effort and family support. The involvement of external agents such as government and charitable organizations was considered a “safety net” that was operationalized when individuals and families lacked the ability to manage their life challenges. But, it was understood that life, oftentimes, presents an array of unexpected, complex events beyond the individual’s control.
Unemployment, for example, resulting from the lack of economic growth directly affects the welfare of individuals and their families in the form of decreased employment opportunities and income. The death of a spouse or debilitating medical condition of a person who is the primary provider of the household will cause a family to be economically vulnerable and at-risk for poverty. Any number of problems can arise that affects an individual or family’s ability to cope with their problems and has grave consequences for social welfare.
Because we live in a market society, social welfare programs were meant to protect individuals, spouses, and dependent children from poverty because of the loss of income due to unemployment, injury, disability, retirement, and death. How a country responds to the needs of its people answers questions about its values and social goals regarding equity, efficiency, and assumptions about social norms such as gender roles and family responsibility. It is these kinds of factors that interact to shape and form Public Policy which determines the size, structure, generosity, and administration of a nation’s social welfare system.
Societies that provide universal welfare gives us an idea about their values for the collective good of their citizenry. In American society, a target approach to program delivery supposedly intended to fish-out the poor and specifically direct benefits to those who need it most is the standard. But with our skewed sense of equity, the idea of the deserving poor has a deleterious effect and neglects many groups of people who have legitimate needs.
The process of targeting benefits also impedes system efficacy and imposes stigma on recipients. Administrative costs associated with means-tested programs for fact-finding purposes regarding assets and income creates enormous, and, oftentimes, exploitative financial burdens on the system by service providers. Income-testing also may deter potential recipients from pursuing benefits and causes adverse work incentives. Because the system requires a reduction in benefits when earnings rise even slightly above the so-called “poverty line”, individuals and families are conversely incentivized to keep their earnings low or work “under-the-table.” Not considering the inadequacy of federal standards of poverty, costs associated with new employment, or deteriorating living wages creates the “poverty trap” that affects the efficiency of the system and lowers the well-being of recipients.
In sum, as we briefly review the original purpose and design of welfare it is time to put aside assumptions about its goals and the people who need it. We do that when we consider all the ineffective variables of the system and the systemic forces that promote and maintain poverty which are too many to name here. The beginning of that process is to understand that people are not always poor because they are inherent social derelicts, make bad choices, live high-risk lifestyles, and the like. More often, than not, people are victims of market forces and life circumstances beyond their control. But, as times are changing, and new social values emerge we should, at least, maintain a basic decency and dignity toward the less fortunate.
Welcome to The Community Advocate Network. My name is Deborah Mitchell, I am a graduate in Social Work and Registered Social Work Technician. My human service background began in 2007 which includes medical case management and service navigation for the indigent population, outpatient mental health counseling with substance use and abuse disorders, supportive employment and job development for mental health consumers, and structured living domicile management.